In the News

State hears Santa Cruz County drought concerns

By Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/5/14

State officials tasked with overseeing California's response to an ominous and ongoing drought visited Santa Cruz on Friday, part of a statewide listening tour on what communities are doing to get through the crisis.

Led by Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, a Sacramento delegation that included top officials overseeing public health, food and agriculture and emergency services heard from dozens of local water and elected officials, including representatives of the beleaguered Lompico Water District. Drought-forced water cutbacks have roiled the Central Valley's agricultural industry, but the Central Coast is almost entirely self-reliant when it comes to water, and has been managing short supplies decades.

"Here we had more of a microcosm of the state where every single issue is represented in some way," Laird said. "It gives us a chance to see how people are handling it in different ways."

Though officially closed to the public, the meeting aired ideas and concerns about water recycling, rationing enforcement, environmental regulations and more, according to attendees. Laird said he is seeing a shift in how Californians view water, which has been an almost perpetual issue in the state's 164-year history, despite California being the nation's most populous state and leading supplier of fruits and vegetables.

"I think there's some real change because people are more willing to look at long-term issues," Laird said. "We have issued an action plan that talks about conservation, recycling, more storage, operating efficiency, groundwater management and taking the steps in each issue to make that happen. And I think the public is more aware than they have been in decades, and increasingly is committed to doing what it takes to implement some of those."

Lompico's tiny water district was one of 17 rural districts named by the state as being on the cusp of running dry. But a state-funded emergency pipeline to the neighboring San Lorenzo Valley Water District has eased the state's concerns, and Mark Starr, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, said he doesn't expect further supply issues in Lompico.

"We're continuing to monitor closely until the intertie is done," Starr said, adding the number of statewide at-risk water districts is down to two. "We don't expect them to ever be in the high-risk group again."

Many local districts are implementing water cutbacks, with the city of Santa Cruz set for mandatory rationing to go into effect May 1. Rosemary Menard, director of the Santa Cruz Water Department, said recent rains aren't changing those plans and the city expects to head into the summer dry season with Loch Lomond Reservoir about two-thirds full.

Some local water districts are pursuing new sources of water. The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, for example, wants to expand storage capacity at its Watsonville plant to increase recycling of wastewater for use on agricultural land – something many water managers across the state are looking at.

"It would help us to store it overnight so we could deliver it during peak demand, during the day," said Mary Bannister, general manager of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency.

The agency has a $900,000 grant toward the $6 million project, and Bannister is hoping the state makes grants or inexpensive loans available to get the project under way.

Some officials wanted red-tape cleared on water-saving ideas, such as Scotts Valley's plan to use recycled water on golf courses and thus free up supplies. But others are hoping the state helps kick-start local initiatives, such as an intertie between Santa Cruz and Soquel allowing those water agencies to transmit water back and forth during times of need.

Santa Cruz County Water Resources Director John Ricker said the idea came up during the 90-minute meeting.

"The drought is sort of a call to action to deal with our long-term impacts and our long-term issues," Ricker said.

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