In the News

Soquel Creek district sees six-month conservation trend
July's production numbers 20 percent less than 2013

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/2/14

SOQUEL — Continuing a six-month trend in customer conservation, groundwater pumping within the Soquel Creek Water District was down 20 percent in July compared to the same month last year, officials reported Friday.

Since February, the district has seen an 18 percent overall reduction in production compared to the same six-month period in 2013 and 23 percent less than the average production for February to July during the past decade.

The cutbacks are noteworthy for a district that failed to make significant gains when it requested voluntary cutbacks during the summers of 2012 and 2013.

"This time is different; there is greater awareness because of the whole state drought," said Ron Duncan, conservation manager.

Duncan said customers have reported greatly reducing landscape irrigation while carefully monitoring indoor consumption. He said the district has received an increasing number of reports from customers about others wasting water.

"We are also seeing people willing to tolerate less waste," he said.

But Duncan expects consumption easily could go back to typical levels if the drought eases, unless the district can educate and convince customers that the groundwater emergency declared this spring by the board of directors is not related to the historic dry spell. Rather, overpumping of the groundwater basin for many years has allowed seawater to creep toward pumping wells near the shore.

"We need everyone to continue like this for a long time," Duncan said. "When the rain comes, that will put us to the test, where we need to make sure we communicate with our customers that the problem is not over."

John Ricker, water resources director for Santa Cruz County, agreed and is working on several long-term, regional water management strategies.

"People are very tuned in to what is going in the region and they understand the drought," he said. "It's harder to understand a more localized and 'hidden' situation like long-term groundwater overdraft."

The district's neighboring agency, the Santa Cruz Water Department, also has seen customers respond to the drought. Consumption in July is estimated to be 26 percent less than the average use for that month in 2012-2013, and was down 23 percent in June for the same previous period.

Since May, residential customers in Santa Cruz have been under a rationing program, one backed by steep fines for excess use. The rationing is set at 249 gallons per day for a four-person household.

Soquel Creek Water District is likely to consider mandated cuts later this year or early next year and, like Santa Cruz, is considering a range of possibilities for generating more supply. The two are partners in a proposed seawater desalination plant that was halted by the city a year ago amid growing opposition.

Soquel Creek's options include building its own desalination facility or joining a regional project in Moss Landing, as well as recycled wastewater and groundwater recharge. A 14-member committee is weighing options in Santa Cruz during the next year.

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