In the News

Santa Cruz council puts desal alternatives back in public conversation

Sentinel Staff, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 10/10/13

SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support an outline by Councilman Don Lane to move forward with a plan to let the public lead a conversation of alternatives to the city's water supply.

Lane said he did not support spending more now for the environmental impact report on the proposed joint desal project with the Soquel Creek Water District. Lane asked staff to return with a range of options to respond to public comments and questions about the plant.

In a letter to colleagues, Lane wrote, "By not proceeding with any new funding commitments for the EIR at this time, we indicate that we are truly in a reset that puts consideration of alternatives on equal footing with consideration of desalination."

Councilman Micah Posner lost a bid to stop all work on desal.

"The community feels injured and to put us back to the correct position for healing , we need to stop spending a dime on this EIR today," Posner said.

Several critics of desal urged the City Council on Tuesday not to finalize a draft environmental analysis of a proposed plant.

City Manager Martín Bernal recommended the council re-engage the public about water supply threats, alternatives and conservation.

Bernal said the city needs to answer more than 400 comments submitted about the environmental impact report for desal, which he stressed won't require the council to certify the analysis or approve the overall project.

"We don't want to prematurely and imprudently take any options of the table," Bernal said. "We have a partner, Soquel Creek, who has paid for at least half of the EIR. If we want to thoroughly look at all the options, it's important that we continue the EIR process."

Finalizing the report could take up to 18 months. The city and district have spent $15 million on desal so far, $1.7 million of which paid for the EIR. The city's interim water director said addressing questions specific to alternatives could cost about $300,000 between the two agencies, though the cost of completing the report is unknown.

In August, Bernal and Mayor Hilary Bryant called for a "reset" in the pursuit of desalination amid growing public opposition. The city also is negotiating with fisheries regulators on habitat protection, working on a master conservation plan and awaiting a county report about water sharing between regional agencies.

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