In the News


Drought restrictions needed ASAP

By Barbara Graves, Special to the Sentinel, 2/8/14

Please set the facts straight: Drought harms groundwater as well as surface water supplies, so we are all in worse trouble today because of it. And if climate change estimates are correct, we can look forward to more frequent droughts like this year's -- intense, not seen in 500 years kind of thing.

Reporter Shanna McCord's recent article quoted the Soquel Creek Water District general manager saying "drought is not our problem," when she should have quoted "drought is only part of our problem."

The obvious thing is that people use more water when it's hot and dry, thus the deficit (using more water than is safe) increases. The groundwater depressions below sea level around wells get deeper, and the saltwater pollution invades. Plus, as the mathematical formula goes, if we get less than 15 inches of rainfall in a year, there is no recharge at all. Zero. That's like drawing money out of your very limited bank account while you have no income.

Scary? It gets worse. In the past two years of drought, the district alone has used over 8,000 acre feet of water, increasing the mid-county overdraft from about 22,000 acre feet to about 30,000 acre feet. That's not counting the city of Santa Cruz, which has overpumped its Live Oak wells to the point of active saltwater intrusion in the shared Purisima Aquifer, and not counting private well owners who aren't even metered.

You have to picture how much water that is, 2.6 billion gallons over the last two years. Billion, with a B, the number 26 followed by 8 zeros.

When I represented the environmental council on the Soquel Creek Water District Public Advisory Committee in the 1990s, I really believed that we could fix this problem with aggressive conservation measures. After more than a decade of reading EIRs, reports, books, and watching the development of an award-winning conservation program, I know that I was wrong, and I understand why.

Climate change. Those of us who have been fighting to stop climate change have failed to plan for a future that will include its life-robbing impacts to people, plants, animals. The San Francisco Chronicle carried a front-page article about how California stream advocates must choose between saving coho or steelhead, the drought making it impossible for both spawning seasons to get streamflow. These are the kinds of choices that face the modern environmentalist.

Pollution of an aquifer is an environmental disaster forever. To avoid it, we need immediate drought restrictions plus longer-range construction of a supplemental supply. There are no more perfect solutions, just the uncomfortable facts, whether you're drinking groundwater or streamwater.

Barbara Graves lives in Capitola.

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