In the News

Water supply report predicts trouble in dry years; Commission considers new assessment as water officials lay out habitat protection plan 

By J.M. BROWN
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/03/11

SANTA CRUZ — City officials will weigh two major water plans this week even as planning continues on a controversial desalination plant seen by some as the strongest remedy for drought.

Monday, the Water Commission will review a proposed Water Supply Assessment that outlines supply and demand projections for the city's General Plan through 2030. Even with a projected 3,350 more residential units, 3.1 million square feet of business development and 311 new hotel rooms, the report predicts supply in years with normal rainfall will meet demand through 2030 if a downward trend in water use continues.

However, the report warns, if usage rates return to higher levels seen a decade ago, there could be shortages of 5 percent by 2030 even in years with normal rainfall. The report also states that demand will outpace supply in any dry year, and could lead to deficits as high as 40 percent during consecutive dry years if all planned development comes to pass.

The report includes anticipated growth at UC Santa Cruz, which is the city's largest employer and water consumer. The campus is authorized to grow about 3,000 more students by 2020, but the actual growth rate will depend on state funding.

What the city's water supply figures do not take into account, however, is a mandated reduction in water taken from four North Coast streams and the San Lorenzo River as a result of negotiations with a federal fisheries agency to protect steelhead and coho salmon habitat. Water officials will outline their strategy for coping with that anticipated loss — predicted to be nearly 20 percent — when they present tenets of a Habitat Conservation Plan to the City Council on Tuesday.

The two supply reports go hand in hand, and if the overall supply assessment is approved by the Water Commission on Monday, it also will eventually come before the council.

“The Water Supply Assessment does not have to conclude there is sufficient water in place at this time” to approve a General Plan, Toby Goddard, the city's conservation manager, wrote in a memo. Rather, he said, the plan must demonstrate there is a plan for increasing supply.

Enter: Desalination.

Consultants working for the city and neighboring Soquel Creek Water District are studying a proposed desalination plant that could transform 2.5 million gallons of seawater each day. The city, which would share the increased supply with the Soquel Creek Water District during dry periods, could ask voters next year to approve the plant, estimated to cost $100 million or more, after an environmental assessment is completed.

Critics of desalination note the city's water demand has shot 20 percent below previous estimates. They believe even greater conservation could help the city absorb a projected increase in demand of 251 million gallons per year and have urged the city to swap with the groundwater-driven Soquel Creek Water District during periods of high supply for each.

Rick Longinotti, a member of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, said water planning should be built around a push for aggressive conservation, such as composting toilets and rainwater catchment systems.

“The problem with both the Water Supply Assessment and the city's plan for habitat restoration is that they assume growth in water demand,” Longinotti said. “That's so old school.”

Desalination opponents also have suggested that creating more water for UCSC is driving the push for desalination, which city officials deny. The university and city have applied for permission to extend 100 million gallons more water annually to a portion of campus outside city limits in order to serve new student housing called for in a 2008 agreement. Conservation groups are challenging the water service extension in court.

IF YOU GO

SPECIAL SANTA CRUZ CITY COUNCIL MEETING 
WHEN: 4 p.m. Tuesday 
WHERE: City Council Chamber, 809 Center St.

AT ISSUE: The Santa Cruz Water Department's recommended habitat conservation strategy to deal with anticipated reductions in diversions from North Coast streams and the San Lorenzo River.

WATER SUPPLY SOURCES

The Santa Cruz Water Department, which serves 90,000 customers between Davenport and Mid-County, retrieves its 4.3 billion gallons in annual water supply from the following sources:

  • San Lorenzo River, 47 percent
  •  North Coast streams and creeks, 25 percent
  •  Loch Lomond Reservoir, 24 percent
  •  Live Oak Well System, 4 percent

Source: Santa Cruz Water Department

WATER SUPPLY ASSESSMENT

To read the full proposed Water Supply Assessment for the city of Santa Cruz, visit http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=19342.

IF YOU GO

SANTA CRUZ WATER COMMISSION

WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday 
WHERE: City Council Chamber, 809 Center St. 
AT ISSUE: The Santa Cruz Water Department's recommended Water Supply Assessment, which is a critical part of the city's General Plan through 2030.

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