In the News

Santa Cruz water supply panel begins examination
Supply-and-demand scenarios critical to task

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6/28/14

SANTA CRUZ — The city's new citizen-led water supply panel took its first look this week at Santa Cruz's supply-and-demand scenarios, which will serve as the foundation for an investigation into the reliability of a system serving nearly 25,000 hookups.

Water Director Rosemary Menard briskly walked members of the Water Supply Advisory Committee through the threats weather and fish habitat protection pose to surface-water sources that make up all but 7 percent of the city's water supply, as well as demand that peaks each summer just as supply sources are dwindling. The city is currently under residential water rationing driven by drought.

Menard explained how water — 3.4 billion gallons produced by the system in 2013 — is used by customers and how much conservation could be achieved in coming years and at what cost. She also stressed the more rarely-discussed impacts of sea-level rise and other forms of climate change.

"We're not going to resolve this uncertainty," Menard said. "We're going to have to figure out how to cope with it."

The 14-member committee is tasked with analyzing water supply vulnerability and within a year or so making recommendations to the City Council that may include tapping new sources, better managing existing ones and fostering long-term conservation. The council appointed the panel last year after suspending the city's pursuit of a seawater desalination facility.

Menard explained that Santa Cruz has among the lowest water users in California, currently at 97 gallons per capita daily, and that, while the population served by the department has more than tripled during the last 60 years, water production has only doubled.

The largest uses of water in single-family homes are showers followed by faucets, toilets and laundry, and the greatest potential source of conservation indoors lies in high-efficiency clotheswashers. The mix of rebates and other measures under consideration by the city during the next two decades could more triple the total conservation costs carried by customers, from about $750,000 annually in 2013 to a spike of nearly $3.5 million in 2023.

Menard explained options for an agreement with state and federal regulators that will govern how much water Santa Cruz will need to release, rather than divert for treatment, from the North Coast streams and San Lorenzo River to endangered and threatened fish. The city and regulators have discussed a number of flow proposals, which in the driest years — this year is on par with the worst on record — could severely impact the amount of water available for people.

"Obviously, you never operate like this," she said of the most dire peak-season shortage historically used to justify the push for desalination. "But it helps you to understand the nature and type of the potential impacts."

Committee member Rick Longinotti, a founder of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, has long questioned the shortages assumed by fish-flow regimens and operational decisions, including conservative guarding of Loch Lomond Reservoir levels.

"If we want to tweak how we use the lake, it could make a big difference," said Longinotti, who also challenges a 10 percent increase in projected water demand by 2030.

David Green Baskin, a committee member who serves as chair of the city's Water Commission, said, "I think we are going to be assuming a baseline of growth ... but the question will be what level of water are we willing to live with given the differences that may occur year from year."

The advisory panel will meet again in late July.

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