Desalination Survey In
By Jake Pierce
Santa Cruz Weekly, 3/23/11
Just over half of Santa Cruz city residents support the much talked-about desalination plant proposal, according to a phone survey sponsored by the desal task force. A reported 54 percent of respondents called the plan to build a desalination plant a “good” or “excellent idea,” while 30 percent called it a “poor” or “not too good idea.”
The poll was a strong showing for the controversial plant, for which public opinion seemed to split faster than the parting of the Red Sea since discussions began in 2002—especially since the more survey respondents learned, the more they seemed to like the idea. After being presented the pros and cons, respondents’ support inched a few notches higher, with 58 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed. Pros presented by survey operators included a solution to bad droughts, the limits of alternative water conservation and the fact that Santa Cruz has not added to its water supply in 30 years. Cons included the plant’s high cost, large energy consumption and possible damage to marine wildlife.
In the Soquel Creek Water District, support in the survey was higher, with 68 percent saying it would be a good idea and 23 percent calling it a poor one.
Soquel-based Gene Bregman & Associates conducted the survey in November and passed the results on to Santa Cruz Water Department Director Bill Kocher in January. Kocher released the report to the public in March. “It never really occurred to us that it was something the public was interested in,” says Kocher. “We did it solely for our own education.”
Supporters say Santa Cruz County’s growing population needs a desalination plant to offset inevitable drought years. According to estimates from the Santa Cruz Water Department, if a dry spell as bad as the 1976-77 drought hit now, Santa Cruz could fall short of its needed water supply by over 40 percent. Meanwhile, the Soquel Creek Water District’s aquifers are draining groundwater faster than the supply is being replenished.
The Santa Cruz Water Department, with its larger service population, would pay 59 percent of the estimated construction through increased water rates, and Soquel Creek Water District would pay 41 percent. Santa Cruz Water District, would have access to the plant for up 210 days during droughts and dry spells, which Kocher estimates will hit once every six or seven years. The rest of the days, the plant’s freshly purified water would be pumped east to Soquel.
The League of Women Voters will hold a debate on the desalination plant on Thursday, April 14 at 7pm at First Congressional Church, 900 High St, Santa Cruz.