In the News

Mayor Proposes a Vote on Whether to Build a Desalination Plant

Mayor Don Lane and Councilman David Terrazas will ask the city council to approve an election on whether to build a plant that would make drinking water from seawater. Opponents had been asking for the same thing.

By Brad Kava
Santa Cruz Patch, 2/15/12

Calling a ballot measure proposed by opponents of a desalination plant "flawed," Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane and Councilman David Terrazas say they will bring a new ballot measure to the city council on Feb. 28.

The ordinance would mandate a vote of the people before proceeding on constructing a local desalination plant, which is basically what the other side had asked for.

In a press release the two representatives said their measure would "provide a simpler and more straightforward way to ensure a democratic decision about water and desalination."

Their measure would allow for a vote as soon as practicable and would save money by not having two elections on the issue. They also say the competing measure is biased and has questionable assumptions.

Their ordinance calls for the election to be after the project has undergone an Environmental Impact Review, which should be in 2013.

Lane and Terrazas are on the council committee that has been studying desalination. The city's water director Bill Koch has said a plant is needed not only to provide water during a drought, but to follow federal restrictions preventing the city from taking too much water from rivers and endangering fish and wildlife.

Opponents of the plant say that the city has already spent millions of dollars researching the proposed plant and want to see it voted on in the November election.

Opponent Paul Gratz said their organization, Desal Alternatives, ran their ballot measure before the city's attorney John Barisone, who approved it and didn't find it biased.

The opponents ballot measure calls for an election to give voters the right to approve or disapprove in November, Gratz said. They are now passing around petitions to get it on the ballot.

Gratz said a similar thing happened in Marin County when opponents of a desalination plant were gathering momentum to have the public vote, officials there said they also wanted to put it to a vote.

"We weren't surprised by this," said Gratz.

Desal Alternatives founder Rick Longinotti put out a statement saying his organization welcomed Lane and Terrazas's ordinance calling for a vote of the people. He worried, however, that if the vote came in 2013, an off year, it would be more expensive.

"There is a very promising development at the County level to get neighboring water districts to exchange water---a strategy that would help Santa Cruz during a drought," wrote Longinotti, whose organization claims that conservation of water would be more cost effective than building a desalination plant. "I am disturbed that there would be a rush to approve desalination before the transfer strategy has a chance to complete the engineering studies.

"I urge the City Council to spend a small fraction of the funds spent on desalination to support the engineering studies the County is conducting to move the water transfer strategy forward."

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