In the News

Santa Cruz water officials could seek 5% curtailment: Low February rainfall puts year on track to be seventh driest

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3/12/12

SANTA CRUZ -- With rainfall in the typically soggy month of February totaling just sixth-tenths of an inch, this year is on course to be the seventh driest on record for Santa Cruz.

Although rain is forecast for much of the coming week, February ended with a seasonal total of just 10.6 inches, or about 45 percent of normal year-to-date rainfall, according to the city's most recent Water Supply Outlook. Water officials may ask the City Council in April to approve a 5 percent curtailment if March doesn't deliver a significant turnaround.

A Stage 1 Water Shortage Alert would aim to reduce use systemwide by encouraging customers to cutback on irrigation. However, the city is, as always, also urging customers to fix leaks and upgrade to higher-efficiency toilets and clothes washers.

"If nothing changes, clearly it would be irresponsible in such a dry year to do nothing," Toby Goddard, the city's water conservation manager, said of the potential curtailment.

The last time there was a shortage alert was 2009, which was followed by two consecutive wet winters.

The Water Supply Outlook, the second of three expected during the rainy season, classifies this year as critically dry, the most severe level on a four-point scale that includes wet, normal and dry. Flow in the river was less than one-tenth of normal in February, and what little rain Santa Cruz did receive last month was absorbed into the ground.

The good news is Loch Lomond Reservoir was 97 percent full at the end of February, thanks to last winter's drenching. But the Water Department will have to draw down its reserves during the high-demand summer months if river flows dip below legal pumping levels and North Coast streams remain drier than normal, the report said.

Goddard said the dry winter would have been an even more serious concern a decade ago, before aggressive conservation helped the city reduce demand by 23 percent despite 6 percent growth.

"If demand were higher, we might be calling for a more rigorous response," he said.

Goddard said a third supply assessment will be done at the end of March before any alert recommendation is brought to the Water Commission and City Council. Any cutback measures would go into place May 1.

The potential shortage alert comes as an anti-desalination group is gathering signatures for a November ballot measure that would allow voters to decide whether to build a controversial seawater desal facility during a future election. The city has also passed its own ordinance requiring a voter referendum on desal as early as 2014.

The city argues the plant is needed to supplement supply in a drought, which could be declared after multiple dry years. But Rick Longinotti, founder of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, said any shortage alert could only "prompt more people to ask us, What are the alternatives to desalination?'"

His group is pushing for increased conservation, water swaps with neighboring districts and a citywide water-neutral development plan rather than a facility expected to cost more than $100 million. The city recently passed such a policy to cover UC Santa Cruz.

Longinotti applauded what he called "the integrity" of the city's decision to possibly curtail use 5 percent, "given that it may not help their case that there is available water to offer for UCSC growth."

The city argues it has enough water in normal years to serve existing customers and extend more water to the campus, especially if increased campus use is offset by conservation off campus. Plans to extend more water to an undeveloped portion of north campus were put on hold last week while the governing body overseeing such expansions awaits results of a deal between the city and fisheries agencies over reduced river and stream diversions.

Council mulls business preference

Coast lines

SANTA CRUZ 3/12/12

The City Council on Tuesday will consider establishing a local business preference for goods and services procured through bids.

The city would make up the difference within 6 percent between the lowest bid, if from outside Santa Cruz, and the lowest bid from a locally owned business. Businesses with at least a local presence would have a 2 percent advantage.

The council will also consider exempting nonprofits with city contracts exceeding $10,000 to pay workers a living wage, unless they also receive city donations. The council could also waive an annual increase in the living wage rate when inflation is low.

The council will consider finalizing an ordinance requiring voter approval of a desalination plant and approving a tentative map for a 53-lot storage facility on Shaffer Road. Consideration of a multi-use apartment complex at 350 Ocean St. will be continued to March 27.

The council will meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chamber, 809 Center St. There will be no 7 p.m. session.

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