In the News

Santa Cruz council to weigh several water measures, welcome new members

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/9/12

SANTA CRUZ -- The City Council on Tuesday will weigh a host of water issues, name the new Pogonip trail, welcome new council members and say goodbye to three others.

The Water Department will ask the council to spend nearly $200,000 to undertake a year-long conservation plan. The city's current water savings guide ended in 2010, and funding for the new plan will come from ratepayer funds set aside for conservation.

Ahead of what will be another year of debate about building a controversial seawater desalination plant, the city expects to complete within a couple months a separate study to determine what level of potential savings exists using current rebates and other programs. Both conservation reports will be key to a possible 2014 vote on desalination.

Water Director Bill Kocher also will ask Tuesday to continue pursuit of an emergency intertie with the Scotts Valley Water District, a connection that would provide a back-up conveyance system for sharing water only during an emergency, More regular transfers would trigger the complicated process of opening water rights.

"We're only talking about a small amount of water," Kocher said. "It's not about volume; it's about helping out."

The two agencies will share the cost, which is expected to be $3 million though state grant funds will cover half. The city would spend $120,000 now just to continue the work.

The move is part of a regional effort to connect several other agencies, including the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, Lompico Water District, the Mount Hermon Association Water Department and former Felton system once operated by California American Water. The effort originally included a new connection between Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water District, but the district backed out amid financial and political concerns.

Interim Manager Taj Dufour said the district's board opted in October not to spend what ultimately would have been more than $2 million to create a larger link with the city. In an email Friday, he said the move could have been mistaken as "segmenting the desal project," a joint plan designed to rest the district's wells and protect the city against drought.

However, Dufour said the district will continue working with the city and county on a separate, ongoing project to allow for temporary, non-emergency transfers between them.

Also Tuesday, Kocher will seek council approval to apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a permit covering the city's Graham Hill Water Treatment plant, which is near areas that contain the federally protected Mount Hermon June Beetle. The city will agree to stay out of sensitive areas and set aside a separate beetle habitat area in its Laguna Creek watershed for preservation.

All of the water items appear on the council's afternoon consent agenda, which means they won't be discussed unless a council member requests it. Also on that calendar is a request by the Parks and Recreation Department to name a multiuse trail under construction in Pogonip for Emma McCrary, a member of the Big Creek Lumber family who, literally, blazed numerous trails through area wildlands before dying in 2011.

On its regular agenda, the council will consider changes to the city's historic preservation and public art ordinances, as well as hear an appeal of $6,700 in hotel taxes and penalties owed by the owners of two motels.

During an evening session, Cynthia Mathews, Micah Posner and Pamela Comstock will be sworn in alongside outgoing Mayor Don Lane, all of whom won seats in the Nov. 6 election.

Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant is expected to be selected as mayor, and the council will bid farewell to Council members Katherine Beiers, Ryan Coonerty and Tony Madrigal.

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WHEN: Consent agenda and general business, 2:15 p.m.; swearing-in ceremony for new members, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Council Chamber, 809 Center St.

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