In the News

Santa Cruz council to consider drought response, new water panel

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2/10/14

SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz City Council is expected Tuesday to appoint nominees to a new water supply committee and consider taking a step toward enacting mandatory water rationing in response to an ongoing statewide drought.

The council's 7 p.m. meeting will be dedicated to weighing a recommendation from city water commissioners to increase the current water shortage alert from voluntary cutbacks of 5 percent to mandatory curtailment of up to 25 percent during the next several months.

The Stage 3 Water Emergency would allow water officials to establish consumption targets for households, businesses and other customers, as well as set penalty rates for exceeding those limits. The Water Department needs time to hire additional staff, increase public communication and take other steps to prepare for a level of cuts unseen since 1990.

Because the state's water code requires the noticing of a public hearing to take such measures, the council cannot make a decision Tuesday. However, the council could schedule a special meeting for Feb. 18 or take up the matter during its next regular meeting Feb. 25.

"We are trying to find that balance, moving as quickly as we can and thoughtfully enough that the community is going to understand what is expected of them," Vice Mayor Don Lane said.

Water managers recommended the commission gradually increase restrictions but the panel believed the record low rainfall in 2013 and in January justified ramping up curtailment under the city's Water Shortage Alert plan. A jump from the first to third level calls for sharp decreases in landscape and golf course irrigation, as well as municipal use, with reductions in delivery of 20-25 percent for residences.

The commission recommended a plan be in place by May 1, which is also the beginning of the high-demand summer period. Meanwhile, it's unclear what impact several days of rain this past week will have on the dismal water supply outlook, which recently determined stream flow on the San Lorenzo River mirrors the historic 1977 drought while capacity at Loch Lomond Reservoir is at its lowest in nearly 20 years.

Although Santa Cruz will need extraordinary amounts of rain in February and March to approach the average for this time of year, Lane said, "A week ago before it had rained at all, I wasn't that far from panic, thinking about how bad it could really be. With a little rain, we can think a little more clearly."


Tuesday, the council is expected to make appointments to a 14-member Water Supply Advisory Committee established in November to lead a new exploration of challenges and solutions related to creating and managing a system that is totally reliant on local sources threatened by drought and mandated fish habitat protection. The committee is expected to work for a year or longer.

Mayor Lynn Robinson, Vice Mayor Lane and Councilman Micah Posner nominated committee members from among 61 applicants. The panel represents average citizens, businesses, environmentalists, the Water Commission and groups that took opposite stances on seawater desalination -- the city's main water supply project until mounting opposition that began with a 2012 ballot initiative led the council to halt pursuit of it.

Lane said the slate of committee nominees represents diverse viewpoints.

"Clearly, we were conscious that some people involved would be coming in with strong views, and we thought that was OK as long as that was not the predominant membership," Lane said.

Nominees include prominent figures such as five-term mayor Mike Rotkin, Desal Alternatives leader Rick Longinotti, engineer Mark Mesiti-Miller, businessman Peter Beckmann, Water Commissioner David Green Baskin and Coastal Watershed Council director Greg Pepping.

A less-known nominee, 27-year Cabrillo College teacher Sue Holt, a city water customer who lives in the county, has been volunteering for Soquel Creek Water District, crunching water use data. Having retired last year, Holt said she has the time to serve.

"There is a lot of interest in having a kind of home-grown solution here," said Holt, who moved to the area during the 1977 drought. "Maybe not something that is unique, but something that we made for ourselves and we agreed to it and said, 'This is how we are going to work this out.'"

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WHAT: Appointment of the Water Supply Advisory Committee; Drought response actions

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. (task force) and 7 p.m. (drought) Tuesday

WHERE: 809 Center St., Santa Cruz



A Santa Cruz City Council committee has nominated the following people to serve on the Water Supply Advisory Committee:

Doug Engfer, city resident

Dana Jacobson, city resident

Charlie Keutmann, city resident

Suzanne Holt, non-city resident water customer

Rick Longinotti, Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives

Mike Rotkin, Sustainable Water Coalition Representative

Sarah Mansergh, Santa Cruz Chapter of Surfrider Foundation

Greg Pepping, Coastal Watershed Council

Erica Stanojevic, Sierra Club

Peter Beckmann, Think Local First"“Santa Cruz County

Mark Mesiti-Miller, Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce

Sid Slatter, Santa Cruz Business Council

David Green Baskin, city water commissioner

David Stearns, city water commissioner

SOURCE: City of Santa Cruz

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