In the News


In dire need of water, and a water plan

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/3/14

Decades ago, when the debate over growth was just beginning, the issue was land use. Control the land-use rules and you control the growth. Now it may no longer be land, but water that shapes the battle.

Across California, three years of drought has taken its toll. Farmers are doing with less, recreation areas are drying up and residents are counting their drips and drops for fear of going over allotments. We track our water consumption more closely than our retirement accounts. If the winter rains don't come, we may be paying exorbitant prices for food and our parched gardens may resemble deserts.

The biggest impact, however, might be the one that's not so visible: loss of economy activity, growth and the tax base that funds the services we want and need.

Earlier this year the Soquel Creek Water District considered implementing a moratorium on new hook-ups to deal with an ongoing overdraft problem. Such a move would have had a chilling impact on business, potentially scuttling plans for new business or expansions. When businesses are told to go elsewhere, they take with them jobs and tax revenues.

The water board eventually moved away from the moratorium and instead adopted a less restrictive groundwater emergency declaration. Still, the warning shot was fired, and local businesses took notice.

Recently, the Santa Cruz City Council approved a pilot program where developers of large hotel projects could receive half of the future occupancy taxes that would be collected, up to a certain point. The motivation: jump-start stalled hotel projects.

Admittedly, the program does not involve water restrictions or trade-offs, nor has the Santa Cruz Water Department suggested that projects be put on hold because of water issues. But we couldn't help notice in comments and letters to the editor that some people are floating the idea that developments of this nature should be stopped until there is a water solution.

Another year of drought and those types of comments will be louder and more frequent. The push to curtail water usage, services — and business expansion — will be stronger. And that kind of curtailment is something we cannot afford.

There is no question that growth does come with a price. More people, more traffic, more congestion. But growth is not necessarily a high-rise on every block, a big-box store on every corner.

Growth is a local eatery deciding to open a second location. Growth is a family deciding to go all in and open their dream mom-and-pop business. Growth is a small group of innovators launching a tech start-up. When we tell these people there's no water for them, that they need to take their ideas elsewhere, we do our community a disservice.

Economic growth is the engine behind our county's infrastructure. Growth provides jobs and generates the tax revenues that fund our recreational services, cultural and social services. Growth can be a sprawling mess, or it can be a well-executed plan that brings untold benefits to the community.

Beyond our landscapes and gardens, beyond our desire for a second glass of water at a restaurant, we need water to keep our businesses, and the benefits they provide, healthy.

As a county, we have struggled mightily with alternative sources of water. Water districts have studied, experimented and proposed various alternatives. We have all retrofitted, adapted and conserved. And still, during drought years, we struggle.

We need additional sources of water, and every year we wait compounds our problem.

If the rains do return this year, and the next, if we get any kind of relief from Mother Nature, we can weather our water woes — this time around.

If we are instead content to say we made it once, we can make it again, we are severely limiting the future progress and well-being of this county.

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