In the News

Council Greenlights Fish Protection Plan

By Jake Pierce
Santa Cruz Weekly, 4/8/11

All city council members, water officials and public commenters for once looked to be on the same page at Tuesday night’s city council meeting—at least in the beginning. City leaders and environmentalists agree the city must stop pulling so much drinking water from creeks and rivers that are home to endangered species.

But the similarities between opposing sides end there, and the conversation quickly veered into a larger debate: whether Santa Cruz needs to add to its fresh water supply with a controversial desalination plant or simply get better at conserving water.

The city council voted to approve city staff’s proposed Habitat Conservation Plan, which will allow the Santa Cruz Water Department to take its proposal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and, after an agreement is hammered out there, to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In order to protect species like the coho salmon, the water department wants to greatly reduce the amount of water it sucks from the San Lorenzo River, Newell Creek (which feeds Loch Lomond Reservoir) and North Coast streams. Those rivers and streams currently amount to about 75 percent of the city’s supply. The North Coast streams furnish its highest quality water.

To make up that difference in supply, water officials say the city must pull harder on Loch Lomond, which will require $30 million in upgrades to filtration devices. Officials also recommend a desalination plant, which could be in the neighborhood of $100 million. And under the plan, Santa Cruz will also have to pay between $250,000 and $500,000 in most years to mitigate any damage to endangered wildlife in the streams.

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