In the News


By John Sammon

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 03/19/2009

Soquel - Santa Cruz County is using water faster than rainfall can recharge local aquifers, and if the drought continues, a new desalination plant will be key to maintaining the quality of life, water officials said Wednesday.

Information on desalination was presented to the public by officials of the city of Santa Cruz and the Soquel Creek Water District, as well as a water taste‐testing exercise.

Desalination -- taking sea water and removing the salt so it's drinkable -- could provide a backup source to relieve drought, and provide up to 20 percent of the county's water needs, 2.5 million gallons per day.

A jointly formed task force created by Santa Cruz and the Soquel Creek Water District is evaluating a potential full‐scale desalination plant to act as a supplemental supply source.

A pilot program under way at the University of Santa Cruz's Long Marine Laboratory has been creating desalted, drinkable water. Members of the public were invited to sample some, and compare it to other water samples taken from around Santa Cruz County. The taste testing was conducted blind; participants didn't know where each of five samples came from, but were asked to rate each, good, bad, whether it had an odor or left an aftertaste.

The samples tasted very similar to each other. However, the judges picked a sample of bottled water as best, followed by samples taken from the Santa Cruz area, Aptos and Capitola, and the desalted water. The desalted received some votes as "best tasting."

Desalted seawater would be used in drought emergencies and would not take the place of traditional water sources. Santa Cruz and the Soquel Creek Water District rely on underground aquifers, and surface supplies like the San Lorenzo River and the Loch Lomond Reservoir, for about 95 percent of current water supplies.

The city and district are but two users of water. The county also has approximately 3,000 unregulated water wells used by private users.

Heidi Luckenbach, district desalination program manager, said an environmental impact report will be done on the feasibility of installing a new desalination plant, probably to located in the western industrial area of Santa Cruz around Delaware and Shaffer Road. The price tag, to be paid by ratepayers, remains unknown. However, a large desalting plant 10 times the size of that proposed for Santa Cruz currently costs about $200 million.

"We would also be looking for grant funding for the project," Luckenbach said. "There would be two possible types of hookups to draw seawater to the desalination site. One would be an open‐ocean pipe with a screen over it. The other would an angled type of well buried under the sea floor that extends horizontally from the land out to sea."

Other district actions include possible water rationing, and the use of recycled gray water for irrigation wherever feasible. According to district figures, county residents currently use about 75 gallons of water per person per day, 45 percent less than the statewide average.

The proposed EIR would be reviewed by the public starting this fall over an 18‐month period, with construction of the desalination plant possible in 2012.

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