The Emergency in South County
The Aromas Aquifer that supplies the southern third of the Soquel Creek District is in a critical overdraft. Hydrometrics reports that the sustainable yield for District customers is zero. [No, that’s not a typo. It’s zero.] The Aromas Aquifer underlies the entire Pajaro Valley. Over the last fifty years, the shift from apple production (0.7acre-ft/yr) to berry production (strawberries, 2.8af/y; raspberries, 3.7af/y) has increased pumping from the aquifer. The Pajaro Valley Water Management Association estimates, “Under current pumping practices, a 65% reduction in basin-wide groundwater pumping (45,000 acre feet/yr) is necessary to eliminate seawater intrusion throughout the coastal area.” The Soquel Creek District’s annual pumping from the Aromas Aquifer is 1800 acre-ft/yr, just 2.6% of total pumping from the Aquifer.
The real solution to the water supply problem in the Aromas basin is a political solution. All the money and time focused on planning for desalination would be better spent trying to prevent the Aromas Aquifer from being lost to salt water intrusion. The desal plant will do almost nothing to reduce the Aromas Aquifer overdraft. Hooking up the District to desal rather than dealing with the water emergency in the Pajaro Valley is like putting the patient on a mechanical respirator. Once the Aquifer is no longer usable because of salinity, the District will never get off the respirator.
The County has the power to declare a groundwater emergency in Pajaro Valley, under which it could put restrictions on all users of the aquifer. It’s a drastic solution that matches a drastic problem. The County Board of Supervisors has several times come close to declaring an emergency, but decided that the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency was making sufficient progress towards solutions. Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives has recommended that citizens push the County to establish benchmarks for annual reductions in aquifer overdraft. If those benchmarks aren’t met, the County would take action.