In the News


Acting now for a water emergency that awaits

By Rick Meyer, Special to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/8/14

The Soquel Creek Water District board declared a groundwater emergency and a stage-three water shortage emergency at our June 3 meeting, attended by hundreds of concerned customers, after hours of public comment.

The declarations enable the district to take action, in concert with other users of the same groundwater, to reduce usage, through programs such as the district's water-rationing program planned for early next year. The other board members and I acted because coastal wells will be permanently ruined by seawater pollution in a few years unless we are successful with deeper conservation and construction of a supplementary water supply.

In one well, sea water is just 100 feet below the intake. During much of the year, the water level in the middle of the district is 16 feet or more below sea level, driving further seawater intrusion. In an expensive delaying tactic, we are abandoning some wells closest to shore and building new ones inland.

How can there be an emergency when water still flows freely and inexpensively? This is not like a flood or fire. It is because urgent protective action is needed. If you are the engineer driving a freight train and spot a stalled school bus a mile ahead on the tracks, the emergency begins then, not when you hit the bus, since you must apply the emergency brake right away to avoid hitting the bus. The train takes a long time to stop.

The water in our aquifers is being used faster than it is being replenished and it will take years to achieve balance. There can be no TV news videos showing seawater pollution since it is hidden underground, but we must still take urgent action now so water flows freely in the future. The exact number of years before wells might be ruined is uncertain and so is the number of years it will take to build a supplementary supply — but uncertainty cannot stop us. The situation is similar with global climate change, but that time scale is measured in decades, not years.

The current drought has only a minor, delayed impact on water supply in the district. Only long-term rainfall averages affect our available groundwater. Yet our conscientious customers used 18 percent less water in May than in May of last year, already nearly achieving the 20 percent savings we asked for. This shows what our community can achieve when motivated.

If we can keep up those savings indefinitely, past the current era of drought awareness, then we will be about half way to sustainability. We may gain extra needed years in which to plan and construct an additional water supply, an expensive project that may take eight to 12 years.

Our work toward a supplementary supply was set back by several years when the city of Santa Cruz effectively withdrew from its partnership with us, worsening the emergency.

Unfortunately, water savings do not translate into dollar savings for customers — most of our costs are fixed, so if we deliver less water, rates must go up just to provide the same level of services.

In a 3-2 split vote, the board decided to redesign the water demand offset program. Previously customers applying for new water service paid for conservation somewhere in the district, primarily toilet replacements, to offset the impact of new water demand. In the revised program, developers will contribute to a fund, in proportion to the expected water use of their project, with funds used to implement a new range of permanent and verifiable offset measures.

Be heard on the issues by attending our meetings. You can speak at any meeting, and the the board regularly receives a wide range of citizen and expert opinion. Videos of the June 3 and other important meetings are archived at

I wrote this editorial to describe my own views, which may be different than those of other board members

Rick Meyer in on the Soquel Creek Water District board of directors.

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