In the News

Turning Water Into Wages
Local groups propose program to boost employment and avoid building desalination plant.

By Aaron Jacobsen
Santa Cruz Patch, 9/21/11

A day after backers of a $100 million plan to build one of the few desalination plants in the U.S. met in downtown Santa Cruz, about 30 opponents of the plan met to propose an alternative they said would save money and fund more local jobs.

Members of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives and Transition Santa Cruz said Tuesday they could increase local jobs and lessen the area’s water supply challenges with construction projects that would fix aging pipes and improve the reservoirs already in place. Their plan suggests using the Santa Cruz Water Department’s $40 million surplus on these projects, instead of as a down payment for a desalination plant.

According to Longinotti, the potential jobs impact needs consideration when discussing the serious water challenges Santa Cruz faces.

“Along with an environmental impact report, there should be a jobs impact report,” said Rick Longinotti. ”Jobs never even enters into it (the debate). It’s a choice between high tech or low tech, which is a much more labor-intensive solution.”

While Santa Cruz already conserves water fairly well, conservation efforts have yet to come anywhere close to their maximum potential, the group said. Water conservation efforts can create more jobs, according to Julie Boudreau, the water work group leader with Transition Santa Cruz.

Increased graywater use, landscape changes and rainwater catchment systems could all contribute to lower water use, while requiring more labor and creating additional local jobs.

A 2010 report by Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, Transitions Santa Cruz and other local groups outlined a series of recommendations for Santa Cruz’s water management plan. Those recommendations must first be addressed for desalination to be considered a true last option, said Longinotti.

“We haven’t exhausted the potential of alternatives (to desalination),” agreed Boudreau.

For Longinotti, the first step to implementing the Blue Green Jobs Program is raising public awareness and getting people to see the potential benefits to the economy, the environment and even how people deal with challenging large-scale issues such as water use. Instead of working together to address the major water challenges that exist, desalination offers the potential easy way out.

“Technology helps us to avoid human collaboration (in solving our problems),” said Longinotti.

The group has actively monitored those who moving toward the desalination plant, claiming they are on the fast track to spending money the city doesn't have. Those who want to build the plant, which would produce 2.5 million gallons of water a day, include the water directors for the Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek districts, who say conservation and fixing systems already in place aren't enough to meet the future's growing water demands.

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