In the News

Editorial

Soquel Creek vote a plus for water district

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 11/9/14

One of the more closely watched elections in Santa Cruz County last week was for the Soquel Creek Water District. If that's surprising — water boards don't usually get the focus and intense campaigning this one got — it shouldn't be, considering what's at stake.

While the final makeup of the five-member board needs to be confirmed by final vote counting — thousands of mail-in ballots are still being tallied — it's clear that the two incumbents running were reelected.

We only backed one — 12-year-board member Bruce Jaffe — while also recommending two outsiders who were seeking to change the direction of the board. One of those challengers, Bill McGowan, a project manager for Granite Construction, remains third in the voting and seems likely to join the board, since three seats were up for grabs in Tuesday's election. The fourth-place finisher, Carla Christensen, trails McGowan by about 100 votes. She would probably be inclined, if she's elected, to follow the lead of the current board majority. Incumbent Rick Meyer finished a secure second in the voting.

The two other challengers, Doug Deaver and John Prentice, finished farther back — even though they ran with McGowan as a slate, and far outspent the incumbents. Deaver's failure to connect with voters might be the most puzzling, since the former Cabrillo facilities director had done a detailed analysis supporting the challengers' positions on how to deal with the ongoing water crisis.

The election showed a distinct divide in the district, which serves 38,000 customers from Capitola to La Selva Beach, as the three slate challengers were backed by the business community, concerned about moratoriums on new hookups, while the incumbents had support from environmentalists and slow growth advocates.

Meyer seemed to be on track after the election when he said the vote showed Soquel Creek customers are pleased with how the board majority has worked toward identifying a new water supply while adopting stricter conservation policies that included raising rates.

The district relies on groundwater and is facing an overdraft due to excessive pumping. The debate is ongoing however about how far conservation measures need to go, not to mention lessening seawater intrusion into coastal wells. In addition the board needs to decide on alternative supply measures, especially since the prospect of a joint desalination facility with the Santa Cruz water department appears all but dried up.

Meyer and Jaffe joined influential board member Bruce Daniels in favor of declaring a groundwater emergency in June, but Jaffe subsequently voted with two other members to revise a development offset program rather than pursue Daniels' call for a moratorium on new hookups — a position Meyer initially also supported.

While voters indicated they want the board to move relatively quickly and aggressively to solve the water overdraft, it's unclear how the election will impact limited development in the district, especially with a solid offset program in place.

But we also agree with county Board of Supervisors Chairman Zach Friend, who supported the slate of challengers, that at least the election fostered a strong debate on water policy and how Soquel Creek is moving forward — and that the campaign in many ways "created greater accountability, transparency and dialogue with ... customers, something that many had said was lacking."

Here's a vote for that to continue.

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