In the News

Commentary

LAFCO makes big decision March 7

By Ted Benhari and John Aird
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3/4/12

A momentous decision is scheduled for March 7, when the Local Agency Formation Commission [LAFCO] will decide whether to give final approval to Santa Cruz to extend water service to UC Santa Cruz's now undeveloped North Campus, outside the city's water service area. On Dec. 7, the commissioners preliminarily approved the application, which could practically double UCSC's water use: another 152 million gallons annually for more than 3 million square feet of new buildings.

The city's and UCSC's central argument is that LAFCO must approve the application because the Comprehensive Settlement Agreement [CSA] that ended numerous lawsuits brought around the university's 2005 Long Range Development Plan brought significant benefits to the community.

Whatever its merits, the CSA is irrelevant to the LAFCO decision. State law requires LAFCO to decide whether a water service provider can extend services beyond the provider's current boundaries, but only if that is consistent with LAFCO policies. The relevant question is whether the extension is consistent with LAFCO's policies? The CSA has nothing to do with it. LAFCO's independence is exactly why the community negotiators insisted that it review the service extension!

LAFCO's core issue is that it must base its decision on its specific policy that it can only approve the extension of water service beyond the current boundary if there is an "adequate, reliable and sustainable" water supply.

UCSC and the city argue that the service extension is consistent with this policy and should be approved. Yet when justifying pursuit of the proposed $100 million-plus desalination facility, the city argues the opposite, saying that its water supply is not adequate, reliable or sustainable if there is a drought, and drought protection is the major reason given for the desal proposal.

A second major justification is the need to reduce the water it gets from its main sources, the San Lorenzo River and North Coast streams, because of Endangered Species Act violations. Recent letters to LAFCO from state and federal agencies indicate the reduction will be substantial and much greater than estimated by the city. Even without this certain impending supply reduction, the city estimates that in normal rainfall years demand will exceed supply by the year 2020. We think LAFCO should put existing city water customers' needs first, and delay delivery of water to the North Campus until it's clear how much the water supply will be diminished and how much is left.

Given this overwhelming evidence from the city that its water supply is not adequate, reliable or sustainable, allowing it to extend its water service to facilitate UCSC's growth is clearly inconsistent with LAFCO policy.

Why did LAFCO give preliminary approval to extend water service to the North Campus? The justification was based on the condition that the university's growth not increase UCSC's current water use, making it truly water "neutral."

On March 7, LAFCO will consider the specific details to ensure that the city meets this water neutral requirement. To be consistent with LAFCO's own policy, any condition[s] adopted must assure LAFCO that University growth won't increase water demand, so there will be no negative consequences.

LAFCO's responsibility is serious; the public should watch its actions closely. Water is an ever more precious commodity. The water supply for the city's 92,000 customers [including many non-city residents] is at risk from drought, growth and the legal requirement to protect endangered species. Therefore LAFCO must insist on ironclad, enforceable measures to ensure that its approval of an extension of water service to UCSC will not affect the city's stated current perilous water situation in any way, and absolutely meet its required policy of there being an "adequate, reliable, and sustainable" water supply.

Ted Benhari and John Aird are with CLUE, the Coalition for Limiting University Expansion.

© 2008-2013 scwd2 Desalination Program, All rights reserved.