In the News

Debate on Desal and Growth Coming to Head
LAFCO prepares to make crucial decision on the future of UC-Santa Cruz growth

By Juan Guzman
Santa Cruz Weekly, 2/18/12

Stormy seas lie ahead for proponents of the city’s plan to build a desalination plant, and the name of the thunderhead is UC-Santa Cruz. On March 7, the Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation (LAFCO) decides whether or not to extend water rights for the university’s proposed expansion into the North Campus natural reserve area.

Supporters say that the desalination plant has nothing to do with new growth, but desal opponent Gary Patton disagrees. “In a settlement agreement between UCSC and the city,” contended Patton in a Feb. 22 forum on desalination held on campus, “The city agreed to provide desal water to the university’s new growth areas.”

Advocates insisted that the city was committed to putting forward a proposal that did not tax its water resources any further. “The university has been told [by LAFCO],” said former Mayor Mike Rotkin, “that any new expansion has to be water-neutral.” But when the city was asked to submit its ideas for the conditions of the expansion, it pegged the so-called “water-neutral” number not at the university’s current rate of usage, 179 million gallons per year, but at its historic high of 206 million gallons per year.

For desal skeptics, this 27 million-gallon-per-year difference is an indication that the city is committed to using the plant to promote growth, despite its rhetoric in favor of conservation. “Under this condition,” says Patton, “the university is not obligated by the city to conserve until it reaches its historic highs.”

When LAFCO meets on the 5th floor of the county building on March 7 to consider the city’s proposition, one can be sure that Patton and other desal skeptics will be there advocating for a policy that promotes water savings over growth.

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