In the News

Santa Cruz council gives final OK for water rationing
Daily-use limits for residential customers begins May 1

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/23/14

The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously affirmed Tuesday a February decision to enact water rationing for residential customers beginning May 1, thus finalizing the first mandatory cuts in nearly 25 years.

The Water Department seeks to trim overall consumption by 25 percent and may ask to deepen drought-driven restrictions in coming months depending on how well customers conserve and how much water is lost to evaporation at Loch Lomond Reservoir this summer.

The city hopes to keep the lake around the halfway mark by October, when it's historically possible to receive significant rain again. Without the impending restrictions, the reservoir would drop to a third of capacity, which would place the city in peril during a fourth consecutive dry year, said Toby Goddard, administrative services manager for the Water Department.

Runoff on the city's largest water supply source, the San Lorenzo River, is at historically low levels after rainfall reached just 43 percent of long-term averages. The river resembles what "it would ordinarily look like in August," Goddard said.

Beginning next month, single-family households will be allotted 249 gallons of water per day based on a four-person household, though customers can request more. Condominiums, apartment buildings and duplexes will get from 124 to 174 gallons per residence per day, depending on the number of units.

Consumption exceeding those limits by 10 percent will cost $25 per unit of water. Using more than 10 percent of a household's water budget will cost $50 per unit of water.

"Customers won't feel the true affect from rationing until they receive a utility bill," Goddard said.

In a talk with the Democratic Women's Club of Santa Cruz County earlier Tuesday, Water Director Rosemary Menard said the point of rationing is not revenue generation. She told an audience of about 50 that the first violation for excess use can be forgiven if residents attend "water school," a weekly three-hour class akin to traffic school designed to educate on conservation.

"We don't need your money," she said. "We want you to save the water."

Menard and Kim Adamson, general manager of the neighboring Soquel Creek Water District, fielded a number of questions during the gathering, including the potential for direct reuse of recycled water, which the state has yet to approve. A citizen-led Water Supply Advisory Committee will meet for the first time next week to begin exploring such options amid a pause in the city's joint plans with the district to construct a seawater desalination plant.

"We are seeing much less support for recycled water, and we have very high support for desal," Adamson said of recent customer polling within her district, which faces overdraft in the groundwater basin. The district is considering a proposed regional desal project in Moss Landing or building its own plant, and in the meantime will initiate mandatory reductions this fall and in June will mull a moratorium on new hookups.

Santa Cruz resident Carol Fuller, a women's club leader, said Tuesday's talk reinforced that "nothing is easy and nothing is quick" when it comes to establishing a reliable water supply.

Adamson, who headed a water agency in Washington state, was appointed last year, and Menard, a former Nevada water official, took her post three months ago. Four of the county's water agencies are now run by women.

© 2008-2013 scwd2 Desalination Program, All rights reserved.