In the News

Santa Cruz city officials say more rain needed to prevent summer water use restrictions

By SHANNA MCCORD,
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2/8/11

SANTA CRUZ -- The steady, heavy rains that put December in the record books for rainfall shouldn't lull people into a false sense of security that the area's water supply is flush for summer.

In a snapshot review Monday of the city of Santa Cruz Water Department's supply presented to the city Water Commission, conservation manager Toby Goddard said more rain is needed to prevent mandatory restrictions in summer water use.

Restrictions for the city's 90,000 water customers, including residents from Davenport to Capitola, were last in place in 2009.

"We're just about spot-on for a normal water supply this year," Goddard said. "The amount if water is one thing. Timing and distribution is another. If we had control, we'd ask for rain late in the season to carry us through."

Local rainfall amounts measured 164 percent of normal by the end of December. However, the storm track shifted north in January and the area has since weathered a warm dry spell.

January dry spells are common, but the length of time without any rain in what is usually the wettest month of the year, is worrisome for water officials.

With no rain for the past three weeks, daily flows in the San Lorenzo River have subsided to below normal levels for the first time this year, Goddard said.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center issued a 90-day outlook that shows below normal precipitation across the Central Coast, he said.

"We will need more rain to give us a normal year's water supply" Goddard said. "One wet month doesn't give us a whole year's supply."

Monday's supply status report was one of three reports water officials will make before March in determining whether to call for the mandatory restrictions. The next report is expected at the end of the month. The final report will be delivered the third week of March.

The water supply evaluation comes amid a number of high-profile regional developments.

Last week, the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission, which weighs boundary changes and applications to expand a municipality's sphere of influence, approved a new policy that requires a thorough water impact assessment accompany such requests.

Also, a Santa Cruz judge recently ruled that LAFCO can review an application by UC Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Water Department to extend new water service to an undeveloped part of campus for expansion plans.

The Santa Cruz City Council and Soquel Creek Water District board also agreed to study a design for a proposed desalination plant to offset drought.

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