In the News

Projected Water Swap Flows Reduced

by Jacob Pierce
Santa Cruz Weekly,, 6/18/12

New figures unveiled at a June 14 forum didn’t bode particularly well for a plan environmentalists hope could be an alternative to desalination.

County water resources director John Ricker was speaking about conjunctive use, or water swapping—a plan he’s studying that would involve sharing the San Lorenzo River’s excess water flows with overdrafted basins in Scotts Valley and Soquel, with those two districts eventually sending the donated water back Santa Cruz Water Department customers who rely during hot, dry summers. Ricker has long said a water swap wouldn’t fill the region’s apparent need for more water, but he had an update as well.

“We’re looking at having even less water available,” Ricker said about the study. About 25 percent less, to be more precise.

The change in numbers comes because there was an important element Ricker didn’t take into account when he released his preliminary figures last year. That element is Santa Cruz’s evolving but as yet unfinished Habitat Conservation Plan, which will require the city to reduce the amount of water it takes from rivers and streams in order to protect endangered and threatened salmon.

Original estimates were that some 110 million gallons a year could be sent from the

San Lorenzo River to the two overdrafted districts. For the Soquel Creek Water District, where overdrafting is severe, that figure represented well under a third of what a desalination plant could produce. Now that the water-swap figure has fallen to 80-odd million, conjunctive use is looking even less like a complete solution.

Still, there was cause for optimism at the forum, too. Ricker added that a little-used well in Felton could potentially make up some of the difference lost in the new estimates.

Environmentalists have been banking on conjunctive use—along with calls for increased conservation—as an alternative to/a$100 million-plus desal plant. Ricker’s study is key to that. Said Peter Haase of Engineers for Water Alternatives, which hosted the forum, “It hopefully doesn’t become a study just for study’s sake.”

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