Equitable Water Pricing: Who Pays and Who Benefits from Water Supply Strategies?

 People affected by change have to be deeply involved in the crafting of solutions—they are going to pay for them either economically or through changes in how they live. We need more democracy, not less.   - William Ruckelshaus, the first director of the Environmental Protection Agency

Our water supply predicament in mid Santa Cruz County would benefit from “more democracy”. We’re going to have to pay for water solutions, use less water, or both. Arriving at our choice through democratic means will be a challenge. Our community’s ability to achieve consensus on water solutions could be undermined by the disparity between those customers who are used to using a lot of water and those who use much less. How likely is it that customers whose water use is within sustainable levels will support an expensive water supply project? Continue reading

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Water Transfers Between Districts

ACTION STEP: The Santa Cruz Council should direct the Water Department to:

1)    Apply now for water rights permission to immediately transfer water to Soquel Creek District
2)    Enter negotiations with Soquel Creek Water District, Scotts Valley Water District and San Lorenzo Valley Water District to contract for reciprocal water exchanges.
3)    Open the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) negotiations to participation from the County and neighboring water districts in order to facilitate fisheries agency approval of a water transfer plan. The HCP process should also be public.
4)    Report on the cost and benefits of pre-treatment of turbid water and the “Lochquifer Strategy”.

The concept of water transfers is that Santa Cruz would draw San Lorenzo River water, treat it, and send it to Soquel Creek Water District and Scotts Valley Water District in winter months when there is more than enough water in the river to satisfy fish reproduction requirements. Those districts, which are 100% dependent on groundwater, would be able to reduce their pumping of groundwater during the winter, allowing the aquifer to recharge.

From the point of view of Santa Cruz, water transfers is a water storage strategy. Continue reading

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EIR flaw of the month

To download the complete comment from California Department of Fish and Wildlife, click here.

In what may become a regular feature, we reprint comments on the Draft EIR for the desal project. A look at some of the 400 comments from agencies, experts, and the public lead us to conclude that the Draft EIR is flawed beyond repair. If the City chooses to spend more money on “fixing” the flaws for a final EIR, the only credible result would be a fair assessment of alternatives to the project, and a conclusion that the project is not needed.

In this newsletter we feature the comment from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW): Continue reading

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Carbon Offsets Debunked

Myth & Reality

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Conservation Fatigue?

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

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Desal Music Video

Check out this 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. Here are the lyrics: Continue reading

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How We Got in this Mess: Soquel Creek District

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

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Economic Prosperity vs. Environment?

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

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Agenda for Water Security

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

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Fisheries Agencies Speak Out on Water for UCSC Expansion

coho swimming upstream to spawn

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.[1]” 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

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