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Soquel Creek Water District board approves summer cutbacks, sets hearing for debate on moratorium

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/17/13

SOQUEL -- The Soquel Creek Water District board voted unanimously Tuesday to declare a water shortage and ask customers to cut back 15 percent from May to October.

The Stage 2 Water Alert, the first for the district since 2009, will prohibit daytime irrigation outdoors and other nonessential uses. There will be greater enforcement of an ordinance prohibiting wasting water, including three warnings for violators before service could be shut off.

Staff recommended the cutbacks after two years of low rainfall in the winter and spring have done little to recharge overtaxed groundwater aquifers, which are contributing to seawater intrusion at the coast.

"When we have rainfall as small as we got this year, we get essentially zero recharge," board Vice President Bruce Daniels said. "If we really wanted people to offset, then they wouldn't be able to use any water because we are getting no new water."

As part of the curtailment plan, the board approved assigning a temporary enforcement officer and creating individual water use reports for 5,000 residential customers, including the district's 1,000 biggest residential users. The reports would provide water use scores, recommendations for efficiency and comparisons with neighbors.

"What we need our customers to do is make long-term lifestyle changes," said Leigh Ann Gessner, conservation outreach coordinator.

In 2009, the district saw a 12 percent cutback as a result of the curtailment, but staff estimated about half was due to mild summer weather. A 5 percent cutback in 2012 reaped only a 1 percent reduction.

The district needs to cut its groundwater pumping by at least 25 percent of current demand during a 20-year period to restore aquifers to healthy levels. The district has proposed building a seawater desalination plant with the city of Santa Cruz to create a new supply that would allow for a reduction in pumping and protect the city against severe drought.

The board set a public hearing for 7 p.m. June 18 at Capitola City Hall to discuss a moratorium on new or expanded water service, as well as improvements to a conservation offset program. The board is considering the steps as part of a strategy for how to reduce use in the event the desalination project is rejected.

If the City Council approves the $128 million project, the city would put the matter on the ballot. Voters approved a measure in November 2012 guaranteeing a future vote. District board member Bruce Jaffe said he wants soon to discuss how to schedule a vote of Soquel Creek water customers.

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