In the News

Soquel Creek water board takes first step toward rationing
Residential customers will be limited to 75 gallons per day

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/13/14

CAPITOLA-- The Soquel Creek Water District board took the first step Tuesday toward implementing a residential rationing and mandated commercial conservation proposal designed to cut consumption by 11 percent over current demand for up to 20 years.

The board unanimously approved returning Sept. 2 to make final adjustments before the plan, backed by penalties for excess use, goes into effect for residential customers early next year and for commercial accounts in July.

The program to cut 163 million gallons of pumping each year represents only a third of the district's long-term annual goal to address groundwater overdraft, which has invited seawater toward coastal wells. The district also is sorting out disputed studies of the extent of overdraft and reviewing supplemental supply options such as desalination, recycled water and basin recharge.

"We're on this track to find more and save more," conservation manager Ron Duncan said.

Customer Randa Solick of Aptos applauded the proposal, saying she tapped district rebates for rainwater barrels and a graywater system to irrigate her garden. Still, she can't cover all her landscape, saying, "We're all going to take a hit."

Other customers raised questions about whether the rationing is too low for large lots with gardens and why single-family customers aren't allowed more water than multifamily accounts when they typically have more landscaping. Several speakers urged the district, which accounts for only half of the groundwater basin pumping, to press for private wells to be metered.

Board members raised concerns about customer privacy, saying requirements for verifying the number of people per household are troublesome.

"I think we should set up the system that we trust people and not make it too onerous," board member Bruce Jaffe said.

Under the "Conservation Plus" program, residential accounts with more than one person will be rationed 75 gallons per person daily with fines of up to $4 for each 100 gallons over the limit. Residents can request more water for health reasons or if they have large animals or operate licensed care facilities.

Although the typical residency within the district is from two to three people, the board set the baseline at one, which means account holders may have to prove through birth certificates, tax records or other measures that there are additional people. Customers who live alone would receive 85 gallons daily.

Customers may apply once annually for additional water for 30 to 90 days when occupancy temporarily increases because visitors come for the summer or during holidays, though the board asked staff to investigate the cost of allowing for two extension periods.

Commercial, industrial and vacation-rental property customers would not be put on a budget, except for those with dedicated irrigation meters, because different types of businesses use water differently. However, businesses and organizations will be required to perform retrofits, including installation by July 2016 of toilets that use 1.28 gallons or less per flush and urinals that use 0.125 gallons per flush. Properties also must check indoor fixtures and irrigation fixtures each month for leaks and maintain a log provided by the district, then fix leaks within 72 hours.

Aptos resident John Hibble said the logging requirement is onerous.

"I thought you were working for customers, not the other way around," he said. "It's heavy-handed and not necessary and I hope you will take it out."

Non-residential customers face fines up to twice the cost of water for violations. The cost of the program is estimated at $3.2 million in 2015 and about $2 million each year for the next two.

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Desal draft EIR release delayed; impact on schedule uncertain

Could push back project schedule by three months

By Jim Johnson, Monterey County Herald 08/13/14

MONTEREY-- California American Water's desalination project has apparently suffered another setback, this one involving the release of the draft project environmental impact report.

The firm hired by the state Public Utilities Commission to conduct the project's environmental review said the draft report had been delayed "several months" beyond its Sept. 30 public release date. According to Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority executive director Jim Cullem, a representative from Environmental Science Associates called Friday with the news and also said the PUC's December hearings on the project would likely be delayed, perhaps for as long as three months.

Cullem said no official notice has yet been sent from the PUC, but he did expect an announcement this week. The delay was added to the Regional Water Authority's agenda for Thursday's meeting, set for 7 p.m. at Monterey City Hall.

Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, the authority's newly designated president, said he was told by ESA's Eric Zigas the draft EIR was being delayed to allow more work on groundwater — or source water — computer modeling for the desal project. Burnett said the EIR team needed more time to incorporate information from the Hydrogeological Working Group's bore hole technical report, as well as the Salinas River water diversion permit project proposal aimed at using river water to battle seawater intrusion.

Burnett said he expects the draft EIR to be delayed until late this year or early next year.

Cullem said the administrative law judge overseeing the project proceeding would ultimately have to decide how the delayed release of the draft EIR would affect the project schedule, including the December hearing. Burnett suggested the 16 parties who signed off on the project settlement agreement, and set the schedule, should weigh in on such a decision.

Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Stedman said company officials had also been notified about the delay, though she said no information was available regarding how long the requested delay would be nor how it would affect the project schedule. The desal plant is currently scheduled to be built and delivering water by mid-2018 — already a year and a half after the state-ordered cutback in pumping from the Carmel River takes full effect at the end of 2016.

"While news of a delay is very disappointing, we understand the need to ensure the groundwater modeling is conducted thoroughly and properly," Stedman said in a statement.

Burnett and Cullem both said the delay in releasing the draft EIR should offer more time for the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency's proposed groundwater replenishment project to make progress on securing a source water agreement. Source water talks bogged down last month and it appeared the project was on shaky footing as key deadlines approached. Cullem said key officials have indicated renewed optimism about reaching a deal with Salinas Valley farmers. An update report is set for Thursday's water authority meeting.

"It's our job to take lemons and make lemonade," Burnett said. "I'm disappointed (the draft EIR) is taking this long but if that's what it takes to do it right then I support that rather than having a delay further down the line. We always knew (desal source water modeling) was the area of greatest risk."

At the same time, the Marina City Council has decided to hear Cal Am's appeal of the city Planning Commission's denial of a test well permit on Sept. 3, a week after company officials had hoped the council would set a special meeting to consider the matter.

Also Thursday, the water authority is set to consider a proposal to add Marina Coast Water District interim general manager Brian Lee to the authority's technical advisory committee, which Cullem called an effort to ameliorate the district's opposition to Cal Am's desal project; review a final value engineering report on the desal plant design that has identified as much as $9 million in potential savings, an amount Burnett said could swell to as much as $32 million over the life of the project; consider a power purchase agreement between Cal Am and the Monterey Regional Waste Management District; and discuss the Marina city test well permit and California Coastal Commission coastal development permit schedule.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753.

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