In the News

Is There Enough Water for People to Drink and to Protect Endangered Fish?

By Brad Kava, Santa Cruz Patch, 4/5/11

Future droughts and saving precious wildlife are the topics before a special Santa Cruz City Council session at 4 p.m. Tuesday. If the city can't get a federal permit for drinking water, residents may see the most strict rationing ever.

It's hard to believe as so many county residents are digging out from last week's floods, but the Santa Cruz City Council Tuesday is looking at ways to conserve water and protect the environment, which is severely threatened by the fact that there may not be enough water to go around.

At a 4 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the council chambers, elected officials will hear what the city is doing to get a 30-year permit from the federal government to use the rivers that provide drinking water. It is considering two plans that include spending either $61 or $39 million for improvements over the next three decades to have enough water for endangered fish and humans.

If it doesn't prove to the feds that it is protecting marine life, residents could be in for the toughest water restrictions the city has seen, worse, they say, than those in 1995.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is trying to make sure that Santa Cruz protects species living in its water sources, including popular catches, such as coho salmon and steelhead trout and lesser known critters such as the Pacific lamprey, Pacific pond turtle, tidewater goby, California red-legged frog, Mount Herman June beetle, Zayante band-winged grasshopper and the Ohlone tiger beetle.

Most of the city's water comes from flowing streams, including Liddell Spring, Laguna Creek, Majors Creek, Newell Creek and the San Lorenzo River, all of which have already dropped significantly, even only one week since the floods.

At drier times, the flow is so bad as to threaten the extinction of species crucial to the food chain. Basically, the city's studies show that more water is needed to protect the fish, and it has to find that water either through conservation, buying it from outside sources and making its water treatment plant at Graham Hill more efficient.

The Santa Cruz Water Department has also studied building a $99 million desalination plant to retrieve salt water and make it usable and to stave off shortages caused by long droughts, a topic that has been hotly debated.

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