In the News

Santa Cruz forum on water neutrality Monday: Conservation offsets will be critical to UCSC water case

By J.M. BROWN -- Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/3/11

SANTA CRUZ - Ahead of a hearing on a proposed city water expansion for UC Santa Cruz, opponents of a desalination project designed to boost regional supply will host a forum Monday on the water-neutral philosophy it wants the city to pursue.

Santa Cruz already charges development fees that offset some increases in water demand, but Desal Alternatives has urged a formal policy requiring offsets through conservation. The grass-roots group is pushing a raft of alternatives to a facility that would turn seawater into drinking water to shield against drought.

"The whole idea of water neutrality is to prevent the water situation from getting worse," said co-founder Rick Longinotti.

Water demand offsets are critical to the university case to be heard Wednesday. The city has argued that it has enough water in most years to meet current and projected demand, but will run short during severely dry periods.

The Local Agency Formation Commission, which will weigh requests by the city and university to extend service for growth in an undeveloped part of campus, passed a policy earlier this year requiring applications for boundary changes and other projects within the agency's jurisdiction to be water neutral. In response, the city agreed to place fees paid by UCSC for water expansion into a special trust for conservation.

While the city was willing to establish such a policy for the UCSC extension, a growth agreement that enables more on-campus housing, Mayor Ryan Coonerty said development charges are sufficient to offset other demand as it arises.

"What (a policy) implicitly relies on in is that there is going to be more development," Coonerty said.

Featured at Monday's forum will be Ron Duncan, conservation manager for Soquel Creek Water District, the city's desalination partner; John Ricker, the county's water resources director; and Randele Kanouse, a former official for the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, which created an offset policy after a wave of development in the 1990s.

Desal Alternatives points to Soquel Creek Water District's water-neutral policy, created in 2003 amid an overtaxed groundwater basin, as a reason Santa Cruz should pursue one.

The policy, requiring new customers to offset 120 percent of expected water use, was designed to have developers pay for high-efficiency toilets, faucets and shower heads to be installed in existing properties. But Duncan said the district was left to pay for thousands of promised retrofits when development declined during the recession,

Duncan said offsets are not a substitute for desalination or other supply boosters.

"If you think about it, you can't go on forever by going into people's homes and finding things to do," Duncan said. "You run out of toilets."

IF YOU GO

Water-Neutral Development Forum

WHAT: Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives discussion about water-neutral development policies

WHEN: 1-3 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Ecology Action, 877 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

INFORMATION: www.desalalternatives.org

IF YOU GO

LOCAL AGENCY FORMATION COMMISSION

WHAT: Hearing on the city of Santa Cruz's application for a sphere of influence extension and UC Santa Cruz's application to accept extraterritorial water for growth in the north campus area.

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. Wednesday

WHERE: County Building, 701 Ocean St., Room 525

INFORMATION: www.santacruzlafco.org

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