In the News

Santa Cruz water panel recommends summer restrictions, reviews long-term savings plan

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/3/13

SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz City Council and Soquel Creek Water District, partners in a proposed seawater desalination plant, will meet next month to discuss the long-awaited environmental analysis of their controversial water supply project.

The special joint study session, which will review long-standing shortages and other constraints driving the proposal, is scheduled for May 7, with the environmental report expected to be released days later. Officials will explain the public review process, which will feature a 60-day comment period, after which the city and district will answer questions, provide feedback and make revisions before a final version of the state-mandated document comes back to both agencies for approval.

Meanwhile, the city's Water Department hopes to complete two other key processes before the final environmental report is considered. The city is still in negotiations with state and federal fisheries regulators over flow regimens in the North Coast streams to boost habitat, and is undertaking a major study of more aggressive conservation.

Water Director Bill Kocher said knowing exactly how much water those measures would require or produce will be critical when calculating anticipated increase in demand through 2030 to determine possible shortfalls in dry years. Demand is expected to reach 4 billion gallons annually by 2030, an increase of about 25 percent.

"What it is going to show is that in a 1976-77 drought, unless we have a desal plant, we will be 46 percent short of meeting average annual demand," Kocher said of the environmental report.

Demands by regulators to leave 80 percent of flow that would be present in the streams if there were no city diversions will mean an even deeper deficit, he said. Kocher said the city would not call for voluntary customer cutbacks of 5 percent this summer if it weren't for the fisheries.

This season's rainfall is about half of normal, but Kocher said the city could draw on the Loch Lomond reservoir to avoid cuts if officials weren't mandated to cut back use of Laguna Creek and other freshwater sources.

"No one is saying we shouldn't be doing releases, but we don't have enough water," Kocher said. "If we are losing 250 million gallons from Laguna, we have to take it out of the lake, and if we have to take too much so the ending level is too low, we have to restrict use."

CONSERVATION IS KEY

The city Water Commission on Monday voted to recommend the City Council vote on April 23 to institute a 5 percent cutback beginning in May. The move would restrict mostly outdoor irrigation.

The commission also approved criteria by which future conservation projects will be included in a master plan that will guide the city's water-saving efforts for the next decade. A consultant developed 99 potential steps the city is taking or could take to reduce water use, including ordinances, rebates and other measures for residential, business and government customers.

Potential new measures include individual water budgets for all customers, grants for plumbing upgrades at schools, incentives for rainwater catchment and graywater systems, and incentives, regulations or direct installation programs for high-efficiency appliances and devices.

Rick Longinotti, co-founder of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, said he wished a water-neutral development policy was on the list of conservation initiatives. He said he believed such a rule requiring the direct offset of any new use, along with transfers between agencies, "would go a long way to reducing the curtailment we would suffer in a long-term drought."

Kocher said such a policy isn't a function of conservation as much as it is a way to fund savings projects. He said the city already provides a number of measures for developers to offset use.

Water Department staff and Maddaus Water Management will reduce the list of conservation projects to 20-25 for the commission to approve May 6. The city will take public comment on the conservation master plan through April 15 at www.cityofsantacruz.com/index.aspx?page=1921.

Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports

IF YOU GO

DESALINATION STUDY SESSION

WHAT: Santa Cruz City Council and Soquel Creek Water District study session on draft environmental impact report on desalination proposal

WHEN: 7 p.m. May 7

WHERE: City Council chamber, 809 Center St., Santa Cruz

Details: www.scwd2desal.org

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