In the News

Desalination is part of a larger water solution

By Cynthia Mathews and Mike Rotkin
Commentry: Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/28/11

Unlike our limited local water supplies, there is no shortage of opinion when it comes to the pros and cons of the seawater desalination project being proposed jointly by the Santa Cruz Water Department and the Soquel Creek Water District scwd2. The proposal has sparked spirited debate over the need for the project, potential impacts and numerous proposed alternatives which may or may not be feasible to help meet our communities' water needs in the future.

One thing that everyone agrees on is that we face a water shortage and that a sound, realistic, reliable solution must be found. The water resources these two districts rely on -- local wells and runoff, with limited storage -- are imperiled by some very real threats: seawater intrusion, drought, less water available from streams due to habit protection, and climate change.

There is no question that a supplemental water supply must be found to ensure the future health and safety of our communities.

Many community members believe that increased conservation alone is enough to solve our water shortage problems. We all support conservation. The city of Santa Cruz Water Department City and the Soquel Creek Water District District both have stellar records when it comes to conservation, and per capita water usage for local residents is currently about half the statewide average.

While more conservation is possible, and promoting conservation is the right thing to do, it just won't be enough to meet our future needs. Responsible water planning requires finding solutions and alternatives that we know -- not just hope -- will work. More conservation will contribute to the solution, but it won't solve the problem by itself.
 
Santa Cruz has grown for the last 35 years while relying solely on conservation to accommodate increasing demands. The search for a new, reliable water source such as desalination is not about future growth. It is about confronting the impact of past growth, the reality of limited and decreasing supply, and the need to plan for the future health and sustainability of our communities.

Another alternative water supply being studied is a regional water transfer that would send excess winter flows from the San Lorenzo River to Soquel, where water would be used to replenish that District's overdrafted groundwater basins. Santa Cruz County, the City and the District remain open to this idea as part of a long-range solution, but it will not solve the problem entirely.

More conservation, surface water transfers and desalination are all potential solutions that should be pursued as we work together to solve our water crisis. None of these on their own will solve our water problems, but together they have the potential to be complementary elements of a diversified water portfolio that will provide a responsible, long-range solution to current and anticipated water shortages.

It is important to remember that a desalination project has not been approved. A proposal is currently being evaluated through a detailed, project-level Environmental Impact Report EIR. A decision by the City and the District will not be made until the potential impacts are thoroughly evaluated and the community has had an ample opportunity to comment on the draft EIR.

As responsible community members, we owe it to each other to educate ourselves, participate in this process, and thoroughly evaluate all impacts. We need to focus on finding a practical long-range solution to our communities' water problems.

Mike Rotkin and Cynthia Mathews have both served several terms as Santa Cruz City Council member and mayor, and have been actively involved in local water supply planning.

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