At their April 16th 7pm meeting, the Soquel Creek Water District Board will consider asking customers to cut back on their water use by 15%. This measure is long overdue. Continue reading
Welcome to Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives
Desalination represents a significant new departure from the current low-cost and low-energy sources of water available in Santa Cruz and Mid-County. The electricity required by desalination is thirteen times amount of electricity that Santa Cruz uses to process water from streams. The cost of desalinated water is similarly many times higher than our current water supply. There are questions regarding plant reliability and the safety of desalinated water and impact on tiny marine life that is the basis for the ocean food web.
The alternative to desalination would require the community to commit to increased conservation and a water-neutral growth policy. And it would require local water agencies to collaborate with each other in exchanging water. This is a high-stakes decision for citizens of our community. Thanks to the passage of Measure P (with a 72% majority) in November, 2012, this decision will be made by the voters.
We’re an all-volunteer group of citizens who want our water agencies to explore other options besides desalination. In consultation with hydro-geologists, engineers, and fisheries biologists, we present some of those options here. For a flier summarizing problems with desalination and alternatives, click here.
6 minute video “Clear and Free” in which local artists sing in celebration of our home and watershed—and the need to take care of it.
2 min video,Rainwater Harvesting in Santa Cruz
30 min video, James Fryer: Sustaining Our Water Future in Santa Cruz
Dear City Council Members,
Thank you for the opportunity for input on the Draft General Plan. I would like to recommend some revisions in the Draft in order to better protect the existing customers of the City of Santa Cruz Water Department from the increased severity of drought curtailment that will result from growth in water demand. My main argument is that the City has not proposed effective mitigations to offset the existing harm to fish species let alone mitigations to offset growth anticipated by the 2030 General Plan. Continue reading
I like the definition of environmental sustainability as “providing for current needs without degrading the ecosystem that will support future generations”. We know our water use is not sustainable when saltwater is steadily intruding into the groundwater in the Pajaro Valley, forcing the abandonment of agricultural wells along the coast. In mid-County, the Purisima Aquifer is in danger of the same fate as its southern neighbor. And in the San Lorenzo River watershed and streams along the county’s north coast, the populations of steelhead have declined precipitously since 1970. Coho salmon can no longer be found in the San Lorenzo River.
How did we get here? Were there signs along the way that could have given us a clue that we were headed past sustainable water use? And how do we best achieve sustainable use? Continue reading
I met James Bentley when he introduced himself after a forum “Desalination and the Alternatives” held at Live Oak School in March, 2010. He told me that he recently retired from the Santa Cruz Water Department, where he was Superintendent of Water Production since 1994. “Do you know about the water transfer concept?” he asked me. I had never heard of it.
When we got together afterwards, Bentley explained that in 2000, the City’s consultant, Carollo Engineers, recommended a plan whereby Santa Cruz would supply water to Soquel Creek Water District during normal winters. The District would transfer water back to Santa Cruz in the summer of critical drought years. Bentley told me that the reason the City did not pursue this strategy was that it involved applying to the State for water rights revisions, potentially opening up a Pandora’s Box of water rights troubles. Since 1998 the City’s water diversion from Laguna Creek on the North Coast had attracted the attention of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act. The City regularly dried up Laguna Creek in the summer months, making it unsuitable for fish habitat. Continue reading
The question of whether to allow the City of Santa Cruz to grant water service to an expanded UCSC campus has consequences for endangered salmon as well as for our local economy. A question with such consequences is not unique in our history. Our society is often confronted with what looks like a choice between care for the environment and care for our economic well-being. We need to get clearer on an approach to economic well-being that makes such terrible choices unnecessary. A historical perspective may help.
I recommend going to your locally-owned bookstore and getting a copy of The Death and Life of Monterey Bay. The book traces the history of wildlife exploitation in the Bay, starting with the hunting of sea otters for their fur pelts. Otter fur coats were a fashion statement among the elite in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century China. As a result of the hunt by English, Spanish, and Russian traders, otters south of Alaska were thought to be extinct. It was only in the 1930’s that a small otter population in Big Sur was re-discovered. Since that time, otters have proliferated in Monterey Bay, although they have still not re-populated coastal areas north of Año Nuevo. Continue reading
The Santa Cruz City Council’s passage of an ordinance to put the decision on desalination in the hands of the voters suggests that the community and City government can now move forward together to address our water challenges. The following is our attempt to initiate an agenda for such a process. The agenda articulates what we believe are common goals for all residents in the Santa Cruz water service area, followed by a list of needed information, and finally, actions that could be undertaken immediately to improve our water security. We invite our City Council to engage with us in co-creating and pursuing this agenda. You can comment on this agenda at the end of the article. Continue reading
Santa Cruz City Council Meeting Considers Water for UCSC Expansion: Feb 28, 3pm, City Hall
LAFCO Meeting on UCSC Water Service Expansion: March 7, 9:30am, County Building, 5th floor
Santa Cruz has bumped into its water limits. No, that’s not right. We passed our water limits some time ago. That’s what the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and California Dept. of Fish and Game (DFG) tell us. A decade has passed since NOAA Fisheries first threatened legal action against the City for its “take” of endangered Coho Salmon, and threatened Steelhead Salmon on Laguna Creek, on the coast north of town. The City has held water rights to Laguna Creek since the 19th century. In those days the State granted the City rights to divert 100% of the water in the creek. And dry up the creek the City did—until quite recently. A 2004 City report states, “During September below the diversion, the average monthly flow is 0.2 cubic feet per second.” That’s little more than a trickle. Since the diversion dam on Laguna Creek is over 4 miles inland, such a rate of diversion is mortal for juvenile Steelhead and Coho salmon downstream. (To view a 20 minute video of fisheries biologist, Don Alley, describing the habitat needs of native fish in the San Lorenzo Watershed, click here)
NOAA Fisheries put their 2002 legal action against the City in abeyance so long as the City would come up with a Habitat Conservation Plan as part of an application for a permit to “take” endangered species. The City agreed to draft such a plan in what Water Department Director, Bill Kocher, calls “voluntary” compliance with NOAA Fisheries.
In August the City released its draft Habitat Conservation Strategy. And the recent fisheries agencies’ response is sobering. Continue reading
“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of our time, How much is enough?” – Wendell Berry
We don’t know how much money has been committed under contract on desalination studies—probably close to $20 million. (We know that $12.5 million has already been spent.) It’s apparently not enough, says the Water Department. Continue reading