In the News


Dr. Tom LaHue: Our hidden and threatened water supply

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3/9/13

Many coastal communities worldwide that rely on groundwater are experiencing water shortages and risk of seawater intrusion. We have an opportunity now to protect our groundwater aquifers so they can continue to provide a safe and sustainable water supply.

In recognition of National Groundwater Awareness Week, March 10-16, here are some facts about our local groundwater resources and the Soquel Creek Water District.

1. Our district is 100 percent dependent on groundwater in the Soquel-Aptos area to meet all of our customers' water needs. The city of Santa Cruz is the only major water utility that obtains most of its water from streams and rivers. In the whole county, about 80 percent of our water is from underground.

2. Replenishment of our local groundwater resources begins with rain that falls on the oceanside of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Less than 20 percent of that rain seeps  into the ground for recharge, and this amount is predicted to lessen with climate change.

3. The district serves an area that extends from 41st Avenue in Capitola to La Selva Beach. Our water supply must meet the needs of 37,000 residents, 18,000 jobs, 22 parks and 18 schools.

4. When more groundwater is pumped than is replenished by rainfall, groundwater levels are lowered and seawater will progress inland and contaminate the fresh water supply. Seawater intrusion is virtually impossible to reverse.

5. The groundwater resources available to the district are dangerously low. The district board of directors is committed to restoring the groundwater basin to levels that would protect our groundwater supply from seawater intrusion, not for just the next few years, but for the next 50 or 100 years or longer.

6. In addition to creating supply shortages for people, groundwater levels that are too low can be environmentally detrimental since groundwater feeds streams during the dry months. Maintaining summer stream flows is important to protect threatened and endangered fish.

7. Expert hydrogeologists have concluded that groundwater withdrawals must be reduced by approximately 35 percent for at least 20-30 years to restore groundwater levels that would be protective against seawater intrusion, even without considering climate change.

8. Water conservation is critical. District customers currently use 64 percent less water than the California average. Water conservation must be a way of life in our community.

9. The district has conducted thorough evaluations of all known options to address our groundwater overdraft problem and ensure a long-term, sustainable, affordable and safe water supply.

10. A combination of additional water conservation and desalination is currently the only option that would provide a sufficient, safe and sustainable source of water supply to supplement our reduced groundwater availability for the foreseeable future.

A report on the potential environmental impacts and possible solutions of the proposed regional desalination project (in conjunction with the city of Santa Cruz) is expected to be released this spring. The district board of directors will not make a decision about constructing that project until we have reviewed the environmental impact report and received public input.

Our local groundwater may be out of sight, but should not be out of mind. It is important for us all to educate ourselves about our water supply and learn how we can be a part of the solution. Check

Dr. Tom LaHue is president of the board of directors of Soquel Creek Water District.

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