In the News

New Soquel Creek Water District leader has work cut out for her

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 08/09/13

SOQUEL -- A month in to her new post at the Soquel Creek Water District, Kim Adamson is still wrapping her brain around the challenges that lie ahead.

And they are many -- from managing a joint desalination project whose future is uncertain to compelling private well users to take less groundwater. The agency also is focused on ongoing treatment of naturally occurring chemical compound hexavalent chromium from the Aromas Red Sands aquifer.

"The district is dealing with some real issues, and I'm trying to get up to speed on those," said Adamson, who was tapped by the board to be general manager in May and started her job July 8.

The 45-year-old Adamson, an engineer by trade who most recently served as leader of a small water and sewer system in her native Washington state, has taken the reins of a district facing a serious threat from saltwater intrusion at the coast. In order to protect the groundwater basin, the district plans to reduce pumping by about 35 percent for 20 years to build up a freshwater barrier against the sea.

To supplement the lost water, the district has proposed joining Santa Cruz in constructing a seawater desalination plant that would also provide a new supply for the city during drought. But if voters or regulators say 'no' to the facility, the district plans to establish mandatory rationing of 35 percent, in addition to other less severe conservation measures.

"The entire basin is threatened at this point," she said.

Another important component of plan to restore the basin will likely include pushing 1,000 private and commercial well owners to reduce their use, Adamson said. The main task, will be "to have them understand what the challenges are and get them to conserve the way our customers do."

Boosting the water supply is a problem longtime general manager Laura Brown had worked on for years with the city's water director, Bill Kocher. Engineer Taj Dufour stepped in after Brown took an indefinite leave of absence in 2012, and Kocher announced his retirement just this week.

Adamson and whoever is chosen to replace Kocher will have to quickly build rapport. The final environmental analysis for the desalination plant is expected to be completed this year.

"Losing Bill's knowledge and experience with all aspects of Santa Cruz's water system will be difficult as we try to solve the regional water challenges," Adamson said. "Especially so for me since I am new to the area and had looked forward to having him available as a resource."

Even though she faces a learning curve, district leaders say Adamson's experience fit perfectly for the work ahead of her, which includes managing $13 million in revenue and a capital improvements list that is nearly as much.

In addition to having technical expertise, Adamson earned hear master's degree in public administration -- an education that served her well when her former district changed from surface water to groundwater. Although the impetus for the transformation was volcanic pollution of a local river, she was faced with quelling concerns from residents that their groundwater was also contaminated.

Board Vice President Bruce Daniels said Adamson had done a lot of research before her job interview.

"We were most impressed that she didn't just know a few things," he said. "She had a good understanding of us and our problems and issues, and came up with some suggestions."

To take the job, Adamson had to leave family property in Washington that dates back to 1887. Rather than take a place near the district's Soquel office, she chose to live in an apartment on Pacific Avenue "to get the real feel of Santa Cruz."

Her husband, Mike, remains in Washington trying to sell their home. The couple has two daughters, 17 and 19. Adamson's annual salary is $159,375.

Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports

AT A GLANCE

KIM ADAMSON

OCCUPATION: New general manager of Soquel Creek Water District general manager

AGE: 45

RESIDENCE: Santa Cruz

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, St. Martin's University, Lacey, Wash.; master's degree in public administration, Portland State University, Portland, Ore.

FAMILY: Husband of 24 years, Mike; two daughters, 17 and 19

SALARY: $159,375

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