In the News


By Genevieve Bookwalter

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 01/31/2009

SANTA CRUZ ‐‐ City water customers are staring at a possible water use cutbacks of 35 percent, as this year's lack of major storms has left rivers, streams and Loch Lomond Reservoir with much less water than normal. Meanwhile, no rain is in sight.

That was the word from Santa Cruz Water Department on Friday, as officials look ahead to summer in a "critically dry" year.

The department should decide in mid‐March what type of action its customers must take to ration the city's water supply, said department Director Bill Kocher. But barring a deluge of rain between now and March, the 90,000 people who depend on the district could be forced to cut water use by more than one‐third, or pay steep fines.

"If the skies don't open up, we're pretty much ... done," Kocher said.

For example:

  • The San Lorenzo River, which provides 60 percent of the city's water supply, is flowing at 19 cubic feet per second, according to a report from the Santa Cruz Water Department. Average flow for January is 300 cubic feet per second.

  • The 2008-09 water year continues to be classified as "critically dry." Only 4,400 acre-feet of runoff has been recorded in the San Lorenzo River since Oct. 1. In a dry year, runoff still exceeds 29,000 acre-feet. In a normal year, 49,000 acre-feet flows down the river. An acre-foot is roughly equal to a football field covered a foot deep in water.

  • Loch Lomond Reservoir, which typically provides about one‐fifth of the city's potable water, is at 78 percent of its 2,830-million gallon capacity. Little water has flowed into the reservoir this year.

The city's news comes a day after state officials reported the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which feeds rivers and lakes throughout the state and is a barometer of the year's precipitation, is 61 percent of normal.

"We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history," said Lester Snow, director of the state's Department of Water Resources.

In an odd twist, Kocher said, the situation could prove especially tough on Santa Cruz, where residents already do exceptionally well conserving water.

On average, Kocher said, each city resident uses 70 gallons of water a day. To put that amount in perspective, Kocher said, 70 gallons per day was the amount each resident was asked not to exceed in the drought of 1977, the worst on record.

If this year's conditions persist, Kocher said, residents would be cutting 35 percent off what was allowed in the drought 32 years ago.

Santa Cruz is in the worst situation during a drought, Kocher said, as the district relies entirely on surface water to meet its demand. Most other agencies around the county, like Scotts Valley and Soquel Creek, depend on groundwater, which takes years to percolate through the ground and, as a result, often suffers a lighter blow during a drought.

As a result, Kocher and other water managers said, customers with those agencies likely will not be forced to cut back as much as those in Santa Cruz. Districts could start making their decisions for summer conservation requirements in March.

Still, other water agencies are feeling the pinch.

At San Lorenzo Valley Water District, which uses some surface water, manager Jim Mueller said San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley customers might be required to cut about 30 percent of their water use, 10 percent more than what residents were asked to save last year. The district should make that decision in mid‐March, Mueller said.

"It's kind of looking like everywhere else in the county and our state, dry," Mueller said.

At Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, interim general manager Mary Bannister said rationing could be required from her customers, too.

"We're in dire straits down here," Bannister said. "Everything's on the table for us right now."

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