In the News

Opponents and Supporters Debate Desalination Plan

One one side, the plan to take salt from water and use it for 150,000 people from the North Coast of Santa Cruz to La Selva was heralded as a bold move to ensure enough water in the future. On the other, it was said to be a waste of as much as $100 million

By Brad Kava
Santa Cruz Patch, 11/2/11

The arguments have been floated for years now, but Monday the Santa Cruz City Council had them formally outlined in a study session and public hearing on whether it should spend $100 million to build a plant to take salt out of water and replenish its dwindling water supplies with it.

Former Mayor Mike Rotkin, who has organized the Sustainable Water Coalition, said he first opposed it and has changed his mind, heralded the proposal as a forward-thinking plan along the lines of building the Loch Lomond Reservoir 50 years ago.

He argued that the plant wouldn't pollute the ocean with excess salt and would cost only about $25  a year for the 93,000 Santa Cruzans in the district, which includes unincorporated county areas.

A presentation his group held can be seen here on Community TV.

The Soquel Water District, which would share in the costs, includes another 50,000 customers in Soquel, Aptos, Capitola and La Selva Beach. Its wells are running dry and close to being overwhelmed by salt water from the ocean. It would pick up 40 percent of the costs.

 "We need to supply enough water to have a healthy community," said Santa Cruz Water Department's Deputy Director Linette Almond, who added that while major drought may only occur every 73 years, there is no telling when the next one might be. The city's plan can be found here.

Opponents spearheaded by psychologist Rick Longinotti, who founded an organization called Desal Alternatives, claimed that city water use has cut back significantly in recent years and that the water needs of the future could be met by conservation, raising the amount of water saved in Loch Lomond Reservoir and sharing water with other districts.

"If a worst-cased drought occurred now, and customer water demand stayed at 2010 levels, there would be no water shortfall," said Longinetti.

A representative for the fisheries division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said that Santa Cruz is behind on its promises to ensure that endangered fish have enough water and that the city must soon do something to produce more or divert less from its rivers.

Attorney Gary Patton suggested that the council make sure that the added water isn't going to be a free benefit for the future growth of the UCSC campus.

The city has already spent millions of dollars investigating the plan, said Desal Alternatives member Paul Gratz, who suggested that residents be allowed to vote before it spends more.

There are virtually no operating municipal desalination plants in the U.S., however there are 15,000 of them around the world, according to Water Department Director Bill Kocher.

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