In the News

Soquel Creek district eyes spending cuts amid sharp conservation

By JM Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 11/20/14

Soquel — As Soquel Creek Water District leaders were reminded Tuesday, conservation is a double-edged sword.

When the district passed a budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, leaders anticipated an 11 percent reduction in water use and an accompanying reduction in revenue. But customers more than answered the district’s call to conserve at 20 percent, which caused a 17 percent drop in revenue, according to figures gathered though the end of September.

The district now faces a shortfall of up to $2.3 million unless cuts are made in operations, maintenance and conservation programs. The 2013-14 operations budget of $9 million in 2013-14 was increased to $12.3 million this year to pay for Conservation Plus, a water budgets program that is being revamped and may now see a decrease in funding to make up the revenue losses.

In January, the final year of a three-year rate increase approved in 2013 will go into place. Emergency rates also were enacted when the district declared a groundwater emergency in June.

“Even with emergency rates in place, we’re going to need to do a midyear budget adjustment,” General Manager Kim Adamson said Wednesday. “We have to remove expenses.”

The Board of Directors voted Tuesday to conduct a rate study and develop a 10-year financial plan before investing more deeply in Conservation Plus. However, the board approved continuing small-scale efforts to keep conservation in the forefront of customers’ minds as the rainy season gets underway.

“We will deal with budget problems,” board President Tom LaHue said. “We are so happy that people have saved water. And we want to keep that ball rolling. That is one of the worries we have.”

Tuesday, the board agreed to keep 500 acre feet as the long-term annual reduction target — a figure that represents about 11 percent of average use. The conservation focus would be to reduce outdoor irrigation and keep residential use at 75 gallons per person per day under a future threat of financial penalties.

The district faces overdraft of the Soquel-Aptos groundwater basin that has allowed for seawater intrusion in coastal wells. Amid a halt in planning for a joint desalination plant with the city of Santa Cruz, the district is developing supply alternatives in addition to the conservation plan.

Adamson said the district could explore rolling credits or seasonal water budgets so customers who use less in the winter are allowed more in the summer for irrigation. But a district adviser said the overall rationing limit would have to be lower than 75 gallons per person daily to achieve needed savings.

During its Dec. 16 meeting, the board will discuss how to set up a vote on a supply project and further discuss the budget picture. The board also could welcome a new board member. Results from the Nov. 4 election won’t be clearer until Dec. 2, though incumbents Bruce Jaffe and Rick Meyer are leading third-place contestants Carla Christensen and Bill McGowan.

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