Santa Cruz, Soquel Creek water customers to get desal leaflet in bills
By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/18/13
SOQUEL -- Two agencies on the cusp of releasing a long-delayed environmental analysis of a proposed seawater desalination facility will soon stuff water bills with a tri-fold leaflet telling customers how to get involved.
Reviewed by a desalination task force Wednesday, the leaflet outlines supply challenges faced by the city of Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water District and explains the process of pumping ocean water to a desalting facility and eventually to consumer taps.
The material also briefly addresses steps the agencies are taking to minimize environmental harm, such as screening the intake pipe to reduce harm to fish and diluting leftover salt to levels matching ocean salinity.
The City Council and district board will host a joint study session at 7 p.m. May 7 to explain how the report will be evaluated after its release, projected for some time between May 8 and 17. The agencies will hold separate public hearings to receive comments and questions June 3 at times and locations to be announced.
In the meantime, the agencies also are working on a video about the environmental issues to be distributed on social networks. Material about the forthcoming report also will go out by email.
"We are trying to reach a wider group of people," said Melanie Schumacher, public outreach coordinator for the desalination project.
District board member and task force chairman Bruce Daniels agreed, saying, "We need to constantly be thinking about that. Rather than spending a half-hour talking to one person, try to reach as many as you can."
Daniels and fellow task force member Bruce Jaffe raised questions recently about early drafts of the video transcript written by staff. It featured economic and quality-of-life concerns often stressed by the city as key reasons desalination is needed during drought to increase water supply.
But Daniels and Jaffe were concerned the language could be taken as advocacy -- a key criticism among water customers who see desalination as too costly and energy intensive.
The district board members and City Councilwoman Cynthia Mathews agreed on changes to the video that narrowed its focus to environmental aspects.
Instead of Mathews, a vocal supporter of studying desalination, and Santa Cruz City Manager Martín Bernal appearing in the video to discuss tangential issues, it's expected that only Mayor Hilary Bryant and district board President Thomas LaHue will speak to supply threats while key staff explain how the desal process would unfold if approved.
"We are trying to keep it squeaky clean," Daniels said.
The final environmental report, with answers to public and regulatory questions, is expected late this year before the council and district consider a decision in 2014. Voters would then be asked to weigh in.
The task force received an update Wednesday on the projected cost of the controversial project. In addition to the nearly $14 million spent so far on studies, the cost of design and construction stands at $114 million.
The task force reviewed a list of state and federal grant and loan programs that could be tapped for the project or conservation and environmental measures.
"At end of the day, we may not get any money but we will look under every stone," Daniels said.
Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports
IF YOU GO
DESALINATION STUDY SESSION
WHAT: Santa Cruz City Council and Soquel Creek Water District joint study session on draft environmental impact report for a proposed seawater desalination facility
WHEN: 7 p.m. May 7
WHERE: Council chamber, 809 Center St., Santa Cruz