In the News

Residents gather to chime in on regional water planning

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/17/12

LIVE OAK - Residents shared ideas Thursday about water supply, fish habitat restoration and conservation with area officials who are part of ongoing regional water planning.

The county's water resources director, John Ricker, and leaders of several local water agencies walked ratepayers through outlines of the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan. Regional agencies have been collaborating since the 1990s on how to manage and improve watersheds on a regional level.

Ten years ago, the Regional Water Management Foundation received $12.5 million from the state's Proposition 50 fund to undertake water management projects. The money was combined with $17 million in local matching funds.

Nine agencies have joined the effort and the number of restoration and management projects since 2008 is expected to surpass 60 by next year. Though officials say daily per capita water use per person in Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek water districts is about half the statewide average, surface water supplies in Santa Cruz are threatened and groundwater basins are overcharged in Scotts Valley and Mid-County areas.

"We're doing well but we're still in overdraft," said Ron Duncan, Soquel Creek Water District's conservation manager.

Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek also are pursuing a seawater desalination facility that would restore aquifers, supplement surface supplies during dry periods and improve fish habitat. Ricker explained that a key goal of the regional planning is to rebuild river and stream habitat to recover salmon runs through improve stream flow by removing nonnative vegetation and sedimentation.

"We have our work cut out for us," he said.

Ricker also explained efforts to send surplus Santa Cruz water to Soquel Creek and Scotts Valley districts in the winter to restore groundwater basins when possible. Other plans also seek to improve water quality by reducing bacteria and other pollutants, better manage stormwater and control flooding, promote low-impact development and greater conservation, and increase recycled water use.

Attendee Phyllis Greenleaf of Live Oak said she has long been aware of water shortages, but is "concerned about the low level of awareness among smart people. We need to figure out ways to get information out."

Scotts Valley's Laurie McCann, a mediator in water policy, told officials she believes water supply could be boosted by raising prices.

"Our water is incredibly cheap and our expectation of turning on the faucet and getting it cheap is not replicated anywhere else in the world," she said.

The regional plan is expected to be completed next year.

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