EIR Flaws

Dear Reader,

Click here if you would like to read any of the comments on the desal Draft EIR from agencies, groups and individuals. On that page, scroll down to Appendix C and open the Summary of Commenters to find the comment you wish to read. I recommend the comments from the National Marine Fisheries Service and Calif Dept of Fish and Wildlife which criticize the draft EIR for inadequate evaluation of alternatives to desal.

The following are my comments to date on the desal Draft EIR. If you’re interested in a topic in the Summary section,  you can scroll down to find further discussion on that topic below.     Thanks for your interest.   -Rick Longinotti


A.  Project Description and Background

A.1   Santa Cruz Estimated Drought Shortfall Negates Rationale for Desalination        The dEIR reports an estimated shortfall between existing demand and supply as 29%. That is a significant drop from the 45% shortfall estimated in 2003 by the Integrated Water Plan, the policy document that named desalination as the “preferred option” for a new water supply. The shortfall has lessened due to the dramatic drop in water consumption since 2000. According to the dEIR, there are two measures that would reduce that shortfall below 25%, the maximum tolerable shortfall set by the Water Commission as the goal of the Integrated Water Plan (2003). Because that benchmark can be reached through other means besides desalination, the desal plant is not necessary for drought relief.

A.2   Project Objectives Exclude Viable Alternatives

The very first project objective is  “provide for a supplemental water supply”. Conservation is not a supplemental water supply. Nor is maximizing the use of existing water supplies. The project objective should be re-written so that alternatives to reduce Santa Cruz drought risk and Soquel Creek aquifer overdraft are not excluded from the start.  For example, the objectives are written so narrowly as to eliminate from consideration strategies that would reduce pumping from private wells, including irrigation of Seascape Golf Course with reclaimed water.

A.3  Supply & Demand Calculations Are a Black Box

The dEIR estimate for peak season shortfall under current demand conditions is significantly lower than the City estimate from two years ago, despite the dEIR’s assumption of an increased amount of water to be left in streams for fish habitat. This paradoxical result is not explained in the dEIR. This is an example of the difficulty of observers outside of the Water Department to examine assumptions on which the drought risk is calculated. How are elected decision makers to decide on spending millions of ratepayer money when the estimates of drought risk fluctuate dramatically and incomprehensibly?

A.4  Estimates of Future Demand Are Not Supportable

The history of demand projections for the City of Santa Cruz have been grossly inaccurate. There is reason to believe that  current demand projections are likewise inaccurate.

A.5 Conservation Is An Afterthought in Santa Cruz

The Integrated Water Plan (2003) assumed zero savings from conservation after 2010 (beyond the 280 million gallons/yr that the Water Conservation Plan (2000) plan to save by 2010).  Santa Cruz still has no updated water conservation plan, but is planning to complete one in 2014. This means that the dEIR does not have the benefit of considering an updated conservation plan.


B.  Environmental Impact

B.1  The dEIR’s computation of greenhouse gas emissions omits significant factors.

B. 2   No Evidence that the Strategy to Offset Carbon Emissions Is Effective or Feasible

The claim that the project can be “carbon neutral” is based on the recommendation to “purchase certified greenhouse gas offsets” that are not examined as to whether they might provide real, verifiable or permanent reductions of greenhouse gases.

The dEIR also proposes using local carbon reduction measures

  • already earmarked by the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) for reducing existing greenhouse gas emissions, thus undermining the City’s ability to meet CAP goals
  • that would be implemented without a desalination plant being built, and thus are not “additional” carbon reduction measures.
  • that do not really reduce atmospheric carbon or do not do so permanently


B. 3  Irreversible Commitment to Use Non-Renewable Resources

B. 4  Water Quality   The dEIR does not adequately address how the desal plant would be operated in order to assure that product water quality is safe.


C.  Alternatives

C.1   Draft Contains Inaccurate Information on Water Transfers Between Districts 

The claims made in the dEIR for yield of the water transfer strategy contradict information from Santa Cruz County, which is leading the water transfer effort. The dEIR also draws conclusions without evidence about the time necessary to secure water rights permission for water transfers.

C.2   dEIR Accepts False Definition of “Water Neutral”

The dEIR’s presentation of the City of Santa Cruz claim that it has a “water-neutral” growth policy is contradicted by the City’s estimate for net growth in water demand of 9% by 2030.

C.3   City Policy Prioritizes Growth Over Drought Protection

Conservation measures could reduce City drought curtailment to below the maximum tolerable limit of 25%. However, the City is proposing to dedicate an important conservation measure to satisfy LAFCO water neutral policy regarding UCSC growth. This would eliminate that measure as a potential alternative to desalination.

C.4   Elimination of Conjunctive Use Strategies Is Based on Inaccurate Conclusion

The strategies for Conjunctive Use between water agencies studied by Santa Cruz County have been eliminated under the false conclusion that “these types of projects would not directly benefit the City or the District”. The Kennedy/Jenks (2011) report states that the strategies would benefit Santa Cruz: “Santa Cruz should be able to purchase the banked groundwater in periods of drought.”


C.5   Elimination of Reclaimed Water for Pasatiempo Golf Course Is Based on Inaccurate Assumptions

The dEIR eliminates the strategy for Santa Cruz to send Scotts Valley water during winter months in exchange for Pasatiempo receiving recycled water from Scotts Valley during the peak season. The dEIR eliminates these strategies based on the false conclusion that the strategy will not improve the City’s water supplies during drought years.


C.6   Conservation Savings Is Underestimated

The dEIR estimates for the water savings from lawn removal contrasts with earlier City estimates for that program. The estimated savings from tiered pricing for dedicated landscape accounts underestimates potential savings.


C.7   Reservoir Operations Strategy Discussion Contains Misleading Information

The dEIR analysis dismisses our recommendation for shifting reservoir use towards drought relief, attempting to make a policy decision appear to be a technical matter.


C.8   Examine Possible Relocation of City’s Water Diversion at Laguna Creek

C.9   Include UCSC campus groundwater resources as part of alternatives

C.10       New Wells in Santa Margarita Aquifer Should Be Included in Alternatives

C.11       Raising the Dam at Loch Lomond Should Be Included in Alternatives


Comments on the Draft EIR


A.  Project Description and Background

“The purpose of the City of Santa Cruz Integrated Water Plan is to respond to the current drought-related crisis and plan for future growth.”

Integrated Water Plan (2003)


A.1  Santa Cruz Estimated Drought Shortfall Negates Rationale for Desalination

The dEIR fails to mention that the desalination project was conceived as a means to reduce the City’s worst-case drought shortfall to no more than 25%. The EIR for the City’s Integrated Water Plan reads, “reduce the level of curtailment needed …to no more than 25 percent”.[1] The dEIR’s current estimate of worst-case shortfall is 29%, estimated to occur in one out of a hundred years[2]. That shortfall could be reduced below the 25% mark by measures listed in the dEIR:

  • Conservation, estimated to reduce demand by 200 million gallons per year by 2030
  • Treatment of turbid water, “reducing worst-year shortages by 5 percent”.[3]


The shortfall could also be reduced by other measures listed below in the Alternatives section. Hence the desalination plant is not needed to satisfy the first of the two goals of the Integrated Water Plan, reduce the level of curtailment needed …to no more than 25 percent”. The second purpose of the IWP, to plan for future growth, could better be accomplished by a water-neutral growth policy (see Alternatives section below).


It is important to note that a public process resulted in the Water Commission setting the maximum level of curtailment acceptable to Santa Cruz water customers as 25% — not the 15% that was later adopted. The Integrated Water Plan (2003) describes that process:

Based on this examination and the results of the Water Curtailment Study, the Integrated Water Plan Committee, and subsequently the Water Commission, determined that the highest level of worst peak-season shortage that is tolerable for Santa Cruz customers is 25%.[4]


If the Water Commission determined that citizens could tolerate shortages of 25%, how did City policy change to 15%?  The Draft Integrated Water Plan pointed out that if a desalination plant were built, it would cost a relatively modest additional amount to size the plant and operate the plant so as to reduce drought shortfalls to 15%.

“Thus, the City could achieve the smaller and less frequent curtailments of Curtailment Profile 2 [15% curtailment] at a cost that is scarcely distinguishable from that of CP 3 [25% curtailment]…. Based on these results, Curtailment Profile 2 (maximum 15% drought-year shortage) provides the best cost-reliability tradeoff for Santa Cruz water customers.”[5]


So long as the assumption was that a desal plant would be built, it made economic sense to adopt the 15% maximum curtailment goal.



  • The Final EIR should recommend restoring the 25% maximum tolerable shortfall as an alternative to the project.
  • The Final EIR should point out that conservation and other alternatives can easily achieve the 25% maximum curtailment goal.


A.2   Project Objectives Exclude Viable Alternatives: Soquel Creek District

A strategy is a means to an end. There may be several strategies to achieve an end objective. When only one strategy is improperly described as an objective, other potentially viable strategies to achieve the more fundamental objective are ruled out from the start. An example of this problem in the Draft EIR is defining a “supplemental water supply” as the end objective. The objective for the Soquel Creek Water District should more properly be described as “Provision of adequate water to District customers while restoring ground water to a level that avoids the risk of salt-water intrusion to the aquifers”. A supplemental water supply for the District is one way to accomplish that objective. Another strategy that could significantly contribute towards the objective would be for private well owners to reduce their pumping[6]. However the latter strategy is ruled out in this EIR because the project objective has been narrowly defined as attaining a “supplemental water supply”.


The Project Objectives should be revised in order to allow consideration a variety of ways in which other users of the aquifer could reduce their pumping. One of the most promising of those strategies is the use of a satellite waste water treatment plant to provide water for the Seascape Golf Course, as studied in Water Recycling Facilities Planning Study (Black & Veatch, 2009). That study indicated that 134 acre-ft per year of purified wastewater could be provided to the golf course. However, the Draft EIR eliminates this strategy, saying “it could help overdraft conditions within the basin; however, it would not reduce the potable water needs or pumping demands of the District, as Seascape uses their privately owned well to produce water.”


If the objective is to ward off salt-water intrusion to the aquifer, it makes no difference whether the reduction in pumping takes place in private or public wells. The EIR needs to acknowledge this basic fact, and include satellite wastewater treatment in the consideration of alternatives.


There is a further compelling reason to implement recycled water for Seascape Golf Course. The private well supplying the golf course is close to a District well, and pumping at the golf course reduces the groundwater levels at the District well. The private well is also close to the coast. The District has found that pumping at the coast presents more risk for saltwater intrusion than pumping inland (see all recent District planning documents). Therefore the reduction in pumping at the Seascape Golf Course should be a District priority.


Project Objectives Exclude Viable Alternatives: Santa Cruz

The EIR also lists the objective for Santa Cruz as “a supplemental water supply”. Conservation is not normally considered a “supplemental water supply”. Nor is a change in operational usage of existing water sources normally considered a “supplemental water supply”. Both strategies could significantly contribute towards the more fundamental goal of drought security. Hence the objective for Santa Cruz should be revised as follows: “Reducing the adverse impacts of drought on water customers, while restoring adequate stream flows for fish habitat.”


A.3     Supply & Demand Calculations Are a Black Box

Santa Cruz estimates for peak season shortfall under the same demand conditions have dropped from 37% in 2011[7] to 29% in the dEIR, despite the dEIR’s assumption of an increased amount of water to be left in streams for fish habitat[8]. This paradoxical result is not explained in the dEIR. This is an example of the difficulty of observers outside of the Water Department to examine the calculations of shortfall, on which the investment in desalination is based.

Any time the Water Department wants to run a calculation of its water supply under a particular set of assumptions, it must submit those assumptions to a private company, Gary Fiske & Assoc. whose software will perform the modeling. Citizens are not able to check the calculations of this proprietary software. Nor are the assumptions submitted by the Water Department available for public examination.


The dEIR reports that the project goals include achieving “Cumulative frequency targets”. There is no reference to such targets in the IWP, the plan that set the goals for the project.


A.4    Estimates of Future Demand Are Not Supportable

The history of demand projections for the City of Santa Cruz have been grossly inaccurate. Evidence that  current demand projections are accurate are lacking in the dEIR and supporting documents.


The Integrated Water Plan (2003) was based on demand projections performed by Maddaus in 1998. In 2003, just five years after the Maddaus report, the discrepancy between actual demand and Maddaus’ projection was approximately 600 million gallons per year. (This is a significant number since the proposed desal output to Santa Cruz in a drought year is 450 million gallons).

In response to the inaccurate demand projection in Maddaus’ report, the IWP consultant revised the demand projection downward for the short term.  “The IWP adjusted the near-term figures in Table II-2 downward to reflect actual demand experienced to date.” [9] However, the IWP still considered the Maddaus projections accurate over the long term. Hence the decision to pursue desalination was based on Maddaus’ long-term projection. “Long-term demands were assumed to remain the same.” The chart below shows the Maddaus projection of future demand; actual demand through 2003 (black line); and the temporary adjustment made in the IWP.



By 2010 it was apparent that actual demand was dramatically lower that estimated in the Integrated Water Plan (2003). The chart below shows actual demand in 2010 to be 1.3 billion gallons or 29% lower than projected just 7 years before in the IWP.


The City’s demand projections were updated 2011.[10] The methodology for the demand projections makes two problematic assumptions:

  • “Water demands estimated herein assume that all development projected in the General Plan 2030 will be realized by 2030.”
    This is the same assumption that contributed to the wildly inaccurate Maddaus projection.
  • “Total UCSC demand at 2030 would be 348 mgy, which represents a net increase of 136 mgy over existing water use.

This assumption does not take into account the LAFCO policy requiring water service expansion to UCSC to be water neutral.[11]


A new demand projection should be performed that includes a more realistic assumption than full build-out allowed by the General Plan 2030, and a revised projection for water use at UCSC.


A.5   Conservation Was An Afterthought (Santa Cruz)

The Integrated Water Plan (2003) assumed that conservation programs initiated by its Water Conservation Plan (2000) would save 280 million gallons of water each year by 2010. After 2010 the IWP assumed zero new savings from conservation[12].


Santa Cruz still has no updated water conservation plan, but is planning to complete one in 2014. This failure to set a goal for conservation beyond 2010 contributed to the conclusion that desalination was needed. And the delay in updating the Water Conservation Plan means that this Draft EIR was written without the benefit of such an update. The dEIR acknowledges this fact:

“The question of how much additional water conservation efforts might lessen the projected increase in water demand between 2010 and 2030 will not be known until the next Water Conservation Master Planning process is complete in early 2014.” [13]


B.  Environmental Impact


B.1   The dEIR’s computation of greenhouse gas emissions omits significant factors.

  • The dEIR estimates the amount of ghg emissions due to the desal project. This estimate relies on an assumption that the energy for the plant will be supplied by PG&E from sources that are reflective of PG&E’s energy source mix from 2010. This assumption is not warranted. The PG&E energy source mix in 2010 differs from the company’s mix in a dry year. For example, in 2008, a dry year, PG&E imported 8% of their electricity from coal-fired plants from out of state and correspondingly less energy from hydroelectric sources. Since the desal plant is planned to operate at full capacity in dry years, this should be taken into account. Moreover, calculation of ghg’s due to the desal plant should consider not the existing PG&E source mix, but the sources that PG&E uses for additional loads on the system.
  • The ghg emissions estimate in the dEIR is based on the assumption that the plant will operate without a secondary pass of treated water through the reverse osmosis filters. However, the results of the Pilot Desalination Plant suggest that a secondary pass will be required in order to reduce concentrations of bromine and resultant tri-halomethanes in drinking water.
  • The desal plant operation will result in the land-fill disposal of solid organic waste from the ocean. The EIR calculation of ghg emissions should include methane from rotting organic waste.


B.2   No Evidence that the Strategy to Offset Carbon Emissions Is Effective or Feasible


The City of Santa Cruz estimates that producing desalinated water will consume over ten times the amount of electricity per gallon as current City water production. The Draft EIR claims that the project will produce a net zero increase in carbon emissions. How is this possible, since the plant will be powered by PG&E, with its high percentage of fossil fuel-produced electricity?


The Draft EIR repeats the claim of the water agencies that it is possible to “offset” the carbon emissions produced by the plant’s energy consumption through the purchase of “certified greenhouse gas offsets”. The dEIR doesn’t examine whether this claim can be substantiated. This is a serious omission in the Draft.


The proposition that releasing carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels can be offset by measures such as planting trees or cutting trees down at a slower pace is highly controversial, as the following news report discusses.


“An investigation by The Christian Science Monitor and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found that individuals and businesses who are feeding a $700 million global market in offsets are often buying vague promises instead of the reductions in greenhouse gases they expect. They are buying into projects that are never completed, or paying for ones that would have been done anyhow, the investigation found. Their purchases are feeding middlemen and promoters seeking profits from green schemes that range from selling protection for existing trees to the promise of planting new ones that never thrive.”[14]


The dEIR never describes what criteria would be necessary for ghg offset certification or who would do the certifying. There is no evidence presented that purchase of certified ghg offsets would provide real greenhouse gas reductions, that those reductions could be reliably quantified or permanent. The dEIR assumes that such offsets would be available for purchase, when the market availability of ghg offsets is unclear.[15]


Local ghg reduction projects fail the test of “additionality” and “real” and “permanent”

According to the dEIR, the water agencies could supplement the purchase of certified ghg offsets in small part[16] by developing their own projects to reduce ghg emissions. Appendix O describes a process whereby potential projects were screened for inclusion into a ghg reduction plan and eleven were selected with highest ratings.


Projects that fail “additionality” test

The concept of additionality was introduced in the Kyoto Protocol in Article 12.5, which states that “emission reductions resulting from each project activity shall be certified …on the basis of … reductions in emissions that are additional to any that would occur in the absence of the certified project activity.”[17] In other words, you don’t count improvements in energy efficiency, renewable energy, etc. that would have happened without the project.


The following potential projects fail the test of “additionality” that was supposed to be a criterion of the screening process.


1. Energy efficiency upgrades at Water Dept and Wastewater plant

This proposal would usurp measures in the City’s Climate Action Plan for reducing existing ghg’s. The Climate Action Plan was designed to meet the City’s goals to reduce existing energy consumption by 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Every measure assigned to “offset” the increase in energy consumption caused by desalination is a measure that cannot be used to reduce our existing energy use.


Climate Action Plan Desal GHG reduction strategy
Water Dept.: “Identify and implement additional energy efficiency upgrades for pumps, equipment, and other measures” Water Dept.: “Improve pump and motor efficiency.”


The Desal GHG reduction strategy additionally undermines the Climate Action Plan by usurping energy saving measures to reduce existing carbon emissions at the City’s wastewater treatment plant:

Climate Action Plan Desal GHG reduction strategy
“Complete a Wastewater Treatment Facility audit and energy efficiency plan to reduce energy use and emissions.” “Implement additional energy savings at SC Wastewater Treatment Plant.”


In this competition for the same energy saving measures there is no evidence that the City’s Climate Action strategies for reduction of existing emissions will take precedence over the attempt to make the desal plant appear more environmentally benign. Absent such evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that the desal ghg reduction strategy undermines the City’s Climate Action Plan.[18]


2. High efficiency washing machine rebates

This rebate program should take place with or without a desalination plant, because it is a high-potential conservation program. Not additional


3. Solar panels on Graham Hill Treatment Plant[19]

These panels were installed several years ago. Not additional


Projects that fail the test of “real”, not to mention “permanent”, “quantifiable”, etc.

1. Carbon Dioxide addition for post-treatment[20]

This measure proposes that the carbon dioxide that is added to the desalinated water to make it non-corrosive be counted as reducing atmospheric carbon.  However, the carbon emissions from producing the liquid carbon dioxide are not discussed. And once introduced in the desalinated water, what quantity of carbon is sequestered for any length of time before it is discharged into the atmosphere? And is the carbon that remains dissolved in water and ultimately discharged through the sewage system where it contributes to rising ocean acidity any less harmful than carbon released into the atmosphere?


Conclusion: The screening process for potential ghg reduction projects was flawed for the reasons mentioned above. Other projects on the list are worthy of support, such as local solar projects, and electricity generation at Loch Lomond dam. The question remains, “Aren’t these projects needed to reduce our existing ghg emissions by 80% by 2050?”


B.3  Irreversible Commitment of Non-Renewable Resources

Section 15126.2(c) of the CEQA Guidelines states: “Uses of nonrenewable resources during the initial and continued phases of the project may be irreversible since a large commitment of such resources makes removal or irreversible nonuse thereafter unlikely. Primary impacts and, particularly, secondary impacts… generally commit future generations to similar uses…Irretrievable commitments of resources should be evaluated to assure that such current consumption is justified.” The dEIR fails to justify this commitment by future generations.


The EIR for the Integrated Water Plan (2005) noted that “Operation of the proposed desalination facility (water treatment, operation of the reverse osmosis units, pumping, etc.) would result in an irretrievable and irreversible commitment of natural resources through indirect continued use of fossil fuels.”

The IWP EIR sought to justify that commitment by invoking public health and safety. “However, because this use of natural resources would be used to meet the objectives of the proposed Program, primarily to provide a reliable water supply and ensure protection of public health and safety, commitment of these resources would be justified.”


As noted in Section A.1 above, the current shortfall in peak season demand is 29% and there are several ways in which that shorfall could be reduced and prevented from getting larger. A 29% shortfall is not anywhere near a threshold of public safety.


Scientists have pointed out the environmental costs of extracting fossil fuels are often more significant than the greenhouse gases produced by burning the energy. If the EIR is to give the public a full picture of the environmental costs of the desal project, it should account for the environmental impact of additional coal mining and fracking for natural gas.


B. 4  Water Quality   The dEIR does not adequately address how the desal plant would be operated in order to assure that product water quality is safe.

Accumulation of organic matter can cause microscopic damage to reverse osmosis membranes, compromising the quality of product water. The EIR should detail the fault-control mechanisms that detect and ameliorate the failure of filter membranes.[21]

The Pilot Desalination Study reported that high bromine concentrations in desalinated water caused an unacceptable level of tri-halomethanes when desalinated water was mixed with City water. The dEIR does not address how this high level of bromine will be reduced. Nor does the the dEIR report how the City will monitor levels of trihalomethanes in the City’s distribution system. The monitoring program needs to account for continually changing mixes of desalinated water and City water in the various geographical areas of the City, depending on time of day and year.

The dEIR says nothing about the health impacts of drinking de-mineralized water, despite World Health Organization guidelines on the subject. Nor is there a plan to re-introduce minerals other than calcium to the product water.


C.  Alternatives


C.1  Draft Contains Inaccurate Information on Water Transfers Between Districts 


Santa Cruz County’s effort to implement conjunctive use (including water exchanges between districts) could be the most significant water policy initiative this County has experienced, because of its potential to recharge the overdrafted Santa Margarita and Purisima Aquifers. Central to this strategy is the use of surface water to supply winter needs of Scotts Valley and Soquel Creek District.


The dEIR discounts the value of one conjunctive use strategy, water exchanges between Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek District:

“The length of time to effect a water rights change (10 to 20 years), coupled with the length of time it would take the basin to recover (at least 20 years), means the City would receive little to no benefit from such an exchange any time in the foreseeable future.”

This paragraph implies that water transfers could not take place without water rights changes that will take 10 to 20 years to accomplish. This does not take into account the County’s strategy, that calls for “a short term urgent transfer permit to immediately begin transferring treated water from Santa Cruz to Soquel using existing infrastructure; renew permit while pursuing a long term transfer or amended place of use.”[22] [emphasis added]


The dEIR also mistakenly assumes that the groundwater basin would need to recover before Soquel Creek District is able to send water back to Santa Cruz:

“It may be possible, though not certain, that after the basin recovers in the future, the District might be able to transfer some amount of water back to the City during drought conditions.”

This conflicts with the County’s information: “Provide water back to Santa Cruz during drought periods, subject to specific conditions, on an immediate limited basis, with an increased potential as groundwater levels recover.”[23] [emphasis added]  The Board of Directors of the Soquel Creek Water District has written to the Santa Cruz City Council indicating their willingness to negotiate an agreement for returning a portion of water from Santa Cruz without the condition that the basin would need to recover first.[24]


The dEIR estimates for the amount of water that the District could receive through water transfers is different from the County estimates. The dEIR states that “in the long term [transfers] could supply up to 340 acre-ft/year”. In a report to the District in February, 2013, John Ricker, County Water Resources Director, stated that with current infrastructure and an urgent water rights permit, the District could receive an average of 375 acre-ft per year. With infrastructure improvements, the District could receive an average 660-800 acre-ft. per year. Thus the potential for this strategy to contribute to the District’s pumping reduction goal is significant.


An absurd result of building a desalination plant would take place during winter months when there is a large volume of water in the San Lorenzo River flowing out to sea, but the energy-intensive plant would continue to operate. It is a serious failure of the Draft EIR not to call for an alternative of greater withdrawals of River water during winter months.


C.2     dEIR Accepts False Definition of “Water Neutral”

As we have pointed out, Santa Cruz’s goal of achieving a maximum 25% drought curtailment is within reach without desalination. The City’s other rationale for building a desalination plant is to provide for future growth. However, a water-neutral growth policy, e.g. conservation offsets paid for by new construction, would accommodate new development without the environmental impact of a highly energy intensive desalination plant.


The City of Santa Cruz claim that it already has a “water-neutral” growth policy is contradicted by its estimate for net growth in water demand of 9% by 2030. The accepted definition of water neutrality is that the net demand on the water system does not increase with new development.


In responding to the recommendation from Desal Alternatives that the City implement a water-neutral program, the dEIR refers to a memo from the City Water Department to the Water Commission dated October 3, 2011. The following excerpt is in response to the recommendation of Desal Alternatives and other groups that the City implement a water neutral policy similar to the policy of Soquel Creek Water District.

“The most important thing to remember when considering such a policy and how it affects the need for a supplemental supply is that the City’s need for supplemental supply has never been about future increases in demand.”

This statement conflicts with the stated purpose of the Integrated Water Plan, which includes “… and plan for future growth”.


The Water Dept. memo continues:

Doesn’t the City have a Water Neutral Policy?

Yes. When any new water service is connected to the City system it is charged a System Development Charge (SDC) that is to be used to do whatever needs to be done to the system to accommodate that new demand. A portion of that SDC is dedicated to water conservation projects that will help offset the increased demand.”

The memo fails to mention that the portion of the System Development Charge that is used for conservation is normally a very small percentage of that charge (3% in 2010).[25]  It is small wonder that the City anticipates an increase in water demand, when the amount of new development fees going towards conservation is so low.


A 2004 Water Department report, Adequacy of Water Supplies to Support New Development, is candid about the impact of allowing water demand to grow, “Continuing to provide water to new customers upon request, as is the current practice, may do harm to existing customers by making the potential water shortage situation worse than it would otherwise be…It might be all right to accept a higher level of [drought] risk if the desalination project remains pretty much on schedule and if the outlook for success remains optimistic.”


The EIR should mention that in contrast to Santa Cruz, the Soquel Creek District has a water neutral development policy that puts the responsibility on developers to offset their increased water demand through funding conservation measures. Partly as a result of this policy, the District aims for a 7.5% reduction in water demand by 2030, in contrast to the City’s estimated net increase of 9%.


The EIR should indicate that a water-neutral policy is a viable alternative to desalination for preventing growth in water demand from eroding City drought security. Building a desalination plant to respond to growth would be growth-inducing, “defined as any action or circumstance that encourages growth or removes a barrier to growth”.


C.3     City Policy Prioritizes Growth Over Drought Protection

Conservation measures could reduce City drought curtailment to below the maximum tolerable limit of 25%. However, the City is proposing to dedicate an important conservation measure to satisfy LAFCO water neutral policy regarding UCSC growth. This would eliminate that measure as a potential alternative to desalination.


In 2011, Santa Cruz County LAFCO adopted the following policy to guide consideration of applications to expand water service:

Standard 4.1.1 a. In cases where the basin is overdrafted or existing services are not sustainable, a boundary change proposal may be approved if there will be a net decrease in impacts on water resources.

During LAFCO’s hearing on an application for water service expansion at UCSC, the City initially maintained that LAFCO could approve the application because the City had a water-neutral policy. A letter from LAFCO staff asked the City for evidence of the City’s water neutral program. The City responded very quickly, dropping the pretense that a water neutral program was already in place, and offering a program of lawn removal rebates that would be paid for with UCSC funds in order to offset UCSC’s growth in water demand above a certain threshold. Rebates for efficient washing machines later replaced lawn removal rebates as the designated conservation offset program.


At LAFCO hearings, Desal Alternatives recommended that the City first dedicate conservation programs to compensate for the increased drought shortfall due to fish habitat constraints. Only when assured of a tolerable level of drought security should the City employ conservation measures to offset growth.


C.4  Elimination of Conjunctive Use Strategies Is Based on Inaccurate Conclusion

With funding from state grants, Santa Cruz County engaged Kennedy/Jenks Consultants to evaluate a variety of strategies to recharge the Santa Margarita Aquifer in the San Lorenzo River Watershed. Kennedy/Jenks rated strategies based on yield, cost, and feasibility.[26] Three of the top four strategies included conjunctive use (water transfers) between Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley District. Scotts Valley would receive river water from Santa Cruz facilities during winter months, allowing the groundwater to recharge. The Kennedy/Jenks (2011) report states that the strategies would benefit Santa Cruz: “Santa Cruz should be able to purchase the banked groundwater in periods of drought.”

The dEIR has eliminated the strategies for conjunctive use under the false conclusion that “these types of projects would not directly benefit the City or the District”.


C.5   Elimination of Reclaimed Water for Pasatiempo Golf Course Is Based on Inaccurate Assumptions

The dEIR eliminates the strategy for Santa Cruz to send Scotts Valley water during winter months in exchange for Pasatiempo receiving recycled water from Scotts Valley during the peak season. The dEIR states, “It does not constitute an alternative to the proposed desalination project as it would simply shift demand for City water from summer to winter and would not result in a net increase in water supply.” However, the desalination plant is being proposed because the City has a water shortage in the summer, not the winter. So shifting demand from summer to winter is exactly what the City needs.

The dEIR’s elimination of the Pasatiempo strategy is based on the claim that the strategy will not save the City water in a drought year because the City will cut off the golf course water anyway in a drought year. That is inaccurate. According to the City’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan, at Stage 4 Drought Emergency (35% curtailment), the water allocation to Pasatiempo & Delaveaga golf coures would be 36 million gallons, still a sizeable amount of water. Moreover, the less water Pasatiempo uses in a normal or mildly dry year, the more water would be saved in Loch Lomond Reservoir for future drought years.[27]


The dEIR discounts the option of recycled water at other possible landscape locations, making a similar claim about water restrictions during drought that is at odds with the rationing described in the Water Shortage Contingency Plan.[28]


C.6      Conservation Savings Is Underestimated


According to Appendix B of the dEIR, the amount of water saved by a program to replace lawns is just 3.5 million gallons by 2030.[29]  The Final EIR should explain why such a small amount of water is obtainable from a program that in 2011 the City proposed to offset growth at UCSC of 116 million gallons during SC County LAFCO consideration of water service expansion to UCSC[30].


Appendix B calls for tiered pricing for dedicated landscape accounts. According to the Water Department, such accounts make up 9% of Santa Cruz demand, and considerably more during the peak season, which is when shortages occur. The proposed “budget based pricing for dedicated irrigation accounts” is estimated to save just 8 million gallons by 2030. This is just a 5% savings from current water use by dedicated landscape accounts. This is an unreasonably small expectation given the goal of reducing Santa Cruz drought risk.



C.7      Reservoir Operations Strategy Discussion Contains Misleading Information


The dEIR discusses a recommendation that Desal Alternatives presented to the City in the public process leading up to the adoption of the Urban Water Management Plan (2011). The recommendation was for the City to adopt a policy aiming for an 80% reservoir capacity at the end of the dry season of each year, rather than the 64% capacity that the City chose for its modeling of supply and demand in the IWP. The reservoir fills two roles for the City during normal rainfall years:

  • A water supply during summer months
  • A reserve in case of future drought

The Desal Alternatives recommendation seeks to shift the priority for reservoir operations towards more drought protection (20% lake allocation for summer use; 80% reserved for drought).

The dEIR’s discussion misrepresents the Desal Alternatives recommendation:

“By reserving the lake for drought only, the City would effectively have water shortages in all other years.”[31]

Desal Alternatives has never recommended a “drought only” use of the reservoir.


The dEIR reports that the City already has a goal to keep 80% end-of-season capacity in the reservoir.

“In fact, it is the City’s goal to preserve storage in Loch Lomond Reservoir at or above 80 percent of capacity at the end of the dry season to be prepared for a potentially dry subsequent year (City, 2012a). The City has been successful at obtaining this goal in the last two decades.”

The dEIR explains that the 64% capacity was used for modeling the water supply.

“The 64 percent capacity figure presented above was based on the assumptions made in the operations model developed as part of the City’s IWP.”


Desal Alternatives has pointed out that if your goal is to keep the reservoir at 80% end-of-season capacity, then you should use that figure for your drought shortfall modeling. If instead you assume that the reservoir is drawn down to 64% capacity in the year prior to a drought, your results will show less water available for drought years. One wonders how much the estimated drought shortfall in the IWP (45% in 2003) was inflated by such an assumption. This is an illustration of the point we make in Section A.3, that the assumptions on which the City’s worst-case shortfall are made should be revealed and subject to public review.



We acknowledge that our recommendation to keep end-of-season reservoir levels in normal and mildly dry years at 80% would mean more conservation needed during the summer of more years. Because this tradeoff affects water customers, it is a policy decision in which the public should have input. The dEIR discussion implies that the policy decision has already been made to reduce the reservoir drought reserve in order to offset reduced water diversions from streams.

“The direction the HCP negotiations are going in is for greater use of storage and less use of flowing supply, so it is unlikely that an 80 percent end of season goal can continue to be met with the HCP in place…”

The “direction the HCP negotiations are going” is a City choice. A better City choice—one that would preserve existing drought security—would be to devote prime conservation opportunities such as washing machine rebates and toilet replacement to offsetting the reduced diversion from streams. To date, the City has not proposed any conservation measures to reduce water demand in response to habitat constraints. Instead the City has offered the washing machine rebate program to offset UCSC growth. (See Section C.3)  The dEIR discussion arrives a premature conclusion that the City cannot continue to meet the 80% goal, when that decision is a choice that should be made in a democratic process, not by the dEIR.


C.8      Examine Possible Relocation of City’s Water Diversion at Laguna Creek


One change in operation of an existing water source that should be considered in a package of alternatives to desalination is the re-location of the City’s water diversion structure on Laguna Creek from its current location four miles inland to near Highway 1 on the coast. During negotiations over fish habitat measures, the fisheries agencies recommended this strategy[32] as a way to improve fish habitat. The current water diversion location reduces fish habitat for the entire length of stream that is navigable to salmonids. Moving the water diversion to the coast would allow the stream flow to be unimpaired until close to the mouth of the stream, significantly improving fish habitat.

Water supply modeling should be performed to determine if this measure would allow Santa Cruz to draw more water from Laguna Creek at certain times of the year than is possible under the fish habitat constraints that are currently being negotiated. For example, for many weeks this past winter the City drew no water from Laguna Creek, in their attempt to comply with fisheries agency requests. Had the diversion structure been located at the coast, it may have been possible to divert some water from the creek without impairing salmonid migration.


The Water Department is planning to replace the pipeline that connects to its Laguna Creek water source. This pipeline replacement will be an expensive project, through an environmentally sensitive forest area. Thus moving the pipeline to the coast may have considerable environmental benefit.



C.9   Include UCSC campus groundwater resources as part of drought emergency alternatives

A guest editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel by geologist Gerald Weber[33] suggests that using the currently inactive campus wells during a drought emergency should be considered as an alternative to desalination. Weber writes, “In an era when we are considering desal plants, I think it is essential that this reservoir of water be considered as a possible resource.”


C.10  New Wells in Santa Margarita Aquifer Should Be Included in Alternatives

As part of the Carollo Engineers Alternative Water Supply Project (2000) that informed the Integrated Water Plan (2003), Fugro & Associates recommended developing a new source of water: drilling into the Santa Margarita Aquifer in the Live Oak area. The Santa Margarita Aquifer is deeper than the Purisima Aquifer in the Live Oak area. According to Fugro, no existing wells tap the Santa Margarita formation in that area. The Integrated Water Plan rejected the Fugro recommendation.  However, since that time the City has drilled two new wells that are deep enough to reach the Santa Margarita[34]. The dEIR fails to consider this new water source in its calculations of City water supply or as part of alternatives to the project.

Additional sources of water supply, not considered in this study, can also have an impact on both agencies and their ability to convey and/or receive water. As an example, the City has recently initiated the design of the Beltz Well No. 12 in the Soquel/Live Oak area and which is intended to add supply flexibility and reliability. This new supply well, currently projected to be placed in service in 2014, was not included in this study. A supplemental modeling analysis may be needed to fully evaluate and document the impact of this additional source of supply.[35]


C.   11  Raising the Dam at Loch Lomond Should Be Included in Alternatives

The Water Supply Alternatives Study, 1994, discussed installation of an inflatable dam to extend the height of the Newell Creek Dam by a few feet. This alternative was rejected at the time because of concerns that water rights revisions would result in fish flow release requirements that would offset any gain in water supply resulting from the dam extension. Now that the City is engaged in fish flow negotiations, this alternative should at least be discussed in those negotiations.


[1] The Integrated Water Plan Program Environmental Impact Report (2005) states

3.5.1 IWP Objectives

The IWP objectives are to: (1) reduce near-term drought shortages, and (2) provide a reliable supply that meets long-term needs while ensuring protection of public health and safety (Gary Fiske & Associates 2003). The near-term goal would reduce the level of curtailment needed in a 1976-77 type  drought in excess of 40 percent down to no more than 25 percent, while the long-term goal would  maintain that same level of drought protection and provide supply for planned growth through the year 2030.


[2] The dEIR Table 3-10 shows the results of Confluence modeling, indicating that under current demand conditions of 3500 million gallons per year, and a regime of stream flows for fish habitat known as Tier 3/2, the worst-year peak season shortage is estimated to be 29%. Table 3-10 also estimates that this level of shortage may take place in 1 out of 100 years.


[3] P 3-16

[4] IWP (2003)  p ES-6

[5] p ES-13

[6] The Draft EIR estimates that 55% of pumping in the Purisima Aquifer is Soquel Creek District pumping. Santa Cruz pumps 8% of total annual pumping. The rest of the pumping is from private wells.

[7] Urban Water Management Plan, Table 5-4

[8] The dEIR assumes Tier 2/3 flows, which are greater than the Tier 2 flows assumed by the Urban Water Management Plan.

[9] IWP  p II-10

[10] Erler & Kalinowski, Water Supply Assessment (2011)

[11] See proposed LAFCO conditions on UCSC’s application for water service extension.

[12] IWP Figure II-5 shows conservation savings from City programs peaking in 2010. Those savings actually decline thereafter.

[13] P 8.3-51

[14] http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2010/0420/Buying-carbon-offsets-may-ease-eco-guilt-but-not-global-warming

[15] See American Carbon Registry, “Compliance Offset Supply Forecast” (2012)

[16] Table 5.5-14 offers a sample of such projects, which comprise under 10% of the required ghg emission reduction.

[17] Quoted in Kennedy/Jenks memo to SC Water Dept., June 8, 2011

[18] City policy to allow water demand to grow has already undermined the Climate Action Plan. The Climate Action Plan’s goal to reduce carbon emissions in the existing Water Department operations is “Continue to reduce… total water use within the Santa Cruz service area”. While this would be a worthy goal, it is contradicted by City policy. The recently adopted City 2030 General Plan estimates growth in water demand of 14% by 2030.  According to the desal Draft EIR, only 40% of this new growth will be offset by conservation measures.

[19] dEIR Table 5.5-14

[20] Appendix O and see Kennedy/Jenks, Draft PA No. 16 – Carbon Dioxide Addition for Post Treatment  9/22/11

[21] See Desalination #126, “Analysis of membrane fouling in the treatment of water solutions

containing humic acids and mineral salts.” Also, Caron, et al, “Harmful algae and their potential impacts on desalination operations off southern California.”

[22] SC County Dept of Water Resources, “Conjunctive Use Work Plan” (2012)

[23] ibid

[24] SqCWD Letter to SC City Council, April 4, 2012

[25] email from City Water Dept.

[26] Kennedy/Jenks, Conjunctive Use and Enhanced Aquifer Recharge Project (2011)

[27] “This year, with the coast and river sources flowing low, there will be even more pressure to draw water down from Loch Lomond Reservoir. So every gallon you save helps. It will be ‘banked’ in the reservoir for future use.”  -Santa Cruz Municipal Utilities Review, April 2013

[28] “During dry and critically dry years, water use restrictions would be in place that would target mainly outdoor uses such as irrigation. As a result, water demand projections during a drought assume that very little potable water is used for irrigation.” -dEIR P 8.3-39


[29] Appendix B estimates 2.2 million from the existing lawn rebate program, and 1.3 million from an expanded rebate program.

[30] Under the proposed offset, UCSC would pay the City of Santa Cruz to offset an increased water use from a baseline of 206 million gallons per year to 322 million gallons per year. See agenda report for SC County LAFCO.

[31] P 8.3-59

[32] Conversation with Jon Ambrose, National Marine Fisheries Service

[33] http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_17307973

[34] Beltz well #12 is 640 feet deep

[35] dEIR Appendix BB, p ES-1

One Response to EIR Flaws

  1. Dennis Case says:

    Water neutral policies, as practiced by the Soquel Creek Water District, are simply for the purpose of enabling growth. Since most growth comes from the county’s subsidized housing policies, maybe a water hookup/building moratorium is appropriate at this time until more water can be collected and produced in a cost effective manner.

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