In the News

Alternative Solutions
A look at five proposals for the future of Santa Cruz water

By ARIC SLEEPER, Good Times, 10/22/14

Water conservation is the new norm for the foreseeable future, at least in the city of Santa Cruz. The city council is now reviewing Stage 3 water restrictions on a month-by-month basis, and the city’s recently approved hike in water rate, which includes a “drought recovery fee,” begins this month and is slated to continue until 2019.

“The next generation is going to be faced with a miserable climate,” says Water Supply Advisory Committee member Rick Longinotti. “We’re likely to reduce our water supply, and we’re likely to have droughts that are more frequent, so what’s the best way to prepare for that?”

City officials and residents gathered on Oct. 16 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium for the Santa Cruz Water Supply Convention, a forum for alternative solutions to the region’s water woes organized by the Santa Cruz Water Department and the Water Supply Advisory Committee.

GT took a close look at some of the 25 proposals presented at the convention—from smaller-scale solutions to those on a larger scale.

From the Ether

One presenter, Vincent Cheng of Canadian-based Dew Point Manufacturing, proposed that residents and businesses consider taking water not from waterways or aquifers, but from the air itself. Dew Point has built the “Water Tower 40,” which collects water vapor in a similar fashion to a dehumidifier. The water tower looks much like an everyday water cooler, and can create up to 40 liters of potable water per day depending on the relative humidity.

There’s also an industrial-sized model, which is capable of producing up to 3,000 gallons of water per day, and can be integrated into a building’s ventilation system to provide both air conditioning and heat. “It can do both. You can have an ice rink on one side and a hot yoga studio on the other,” says Cheng.

Rating for change

Under its current rate system, the water department’s charges fall into two categories: the volume charge—based on how much each customer uses—and a readiness-to-serve charge, which is a flat rate. Activists from Desal Alternatives, like Longinotti, worry that the fixed readiness-to-serve charge penalizes those who use less water, and that the recently approved drought fee will cause a further disincentive to conserve.

Desal Alternatives has suggested the Water Department focus its rates more on the volume used by each household, and steer away from the fixed charges. The proposal also suggests that those who use the most water in the city’s service area, like large landscape accounts, bear the cost of new water investments made by the city. One difficulty with this approach may be keeping department revenues constant as customers get better and better at conserving.

Driven by Data

San Francisco-based WaterSmart Software seeks to make sense of a municipality’s water use. WaterSmart’s software, which is already in use in the Soquel Creek Water District and the city of Morgan Hill, provides residents with a “WaterScore” with each bill, and also through an online portal that shows an individual household’s trends in water use and compares it to the use of neighbors. The software not only gives customers an in-depth look at their own water consumption, but also provides an analytics dashboard for the Water Department to help it make more data-driven decisions.

According to WaterSmart’s client solutions manager, David Sheridan, the program increases water conservation by about 5 percent in six months to a year and triples customer participation in water management programs. “What you get is a more engaged community,” he says.

Banking on the river

The city of Santa Cruz’s own water production superintendent, Terry McKinney, took the opportunity to provide a few of his own solutions at the Water Supply Convention. Among the four projects displayed at his booth was a proposal to add collector wells alongside various city-owned sites like the Felton Diversion, which would help to diversify water sources, and decrease the city’s dependence on the Loch Lomond reservoir.

Ranney Collector Wells capture water from the ground alongside rivers and streams—and not directly from the waterways themselves—using horizontal conduits versus conventional vertical wells. The cost to construct each collector is about $2.5 million and would supply approximately 5 to 8 million gallons of water per day for each collector built. “It’s not going to solve the whole water crisis, but it’s going to deal with a piece of it,” says McKinney.

Diversifying bonds

Out of the nine proposals presented by Desal Alternatives, co-chair Longinotti says the most important is for the county to work toward a collaboration of all the region’s water districts to restore existing aquifers. “If we could collaborate with our neighboring water districts to restore those aquifers, that would be the best gift we could give to the next generation,” he says.

All 25 of the proposals presented at the Water Supply Convention can be found on Civinomics.com, where citizens can vote and comment on their effectiveness, practicality, and potential benefits to the local environment and economy. After the comment period ends on Nov. 2, votes and comments will be considered by the Water Supply Advisory Committee before it makes recommendations this spring.

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