In the News

Santa Cruz County could expand watering limits
Drought proposal follows local water districts

By Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/19/14

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz County is set to implement drought-related outdoor watering restrictions -- which have already been adopted by some local districts -- across the county.

The emergency ordinance is likely to be adopted Tuesday by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, and prohibits watering landscapes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Watering also would be limited to no more than two days a week, following restrictions in place in large local water districts.

"This is the county, from an enforcement component, ensuring there's uniformity of rules across the county," county Board Chair Zach Friend said.

Customers of Santa Cruz Water Department, Soquel Creek Water District and other agencies are already familiar with stricter cutbacks, but the county does not supply water and its ability to influence local water use is restricted. However, the proposed law makes all water users subject to landscaping limits, regardless of where they get their water.

But with 99.8 percent of the state in a severe drought — more than half is facing "exceptional" drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor — the action may be unprecedented. Even during a late-1970s drought, it appears the county largely left the response up to local water providers.

The proposed ordinance primarily impacts timed sprinkler systems: daytime watering by drip irrigation, or a hose with a shutoff nozzle attached, would be allowed. Commercial growers are not impacted by the proposal, even though they consume much of the water in the Pajaro Valley area.

"We don't want to presuppose that we know better than they do how to take care of their crops," county Water Resources Director John Ricker said.

The county also is mandating that local urban water suppliers make monthly reports on water use to the State Water Resources Control Board. That rule applies to larger water systems, but the county's Water Advisory Commission wanted to go further by mandating small water producers — from neighborhood wells with five or more hookups to systems like the Bonnymede Mutual Water Co., which serves Bonny Doon — report their production numbers as well.

Chris Berry, who chairs the county's commission (Berry also works for the city of Santa Cruz Water Department), said it's already a requirement but that many small districts aren't following through.

"The concern from the commission is about long-term water management, and you can't really do that without good data," Berry said.

Ricker said the idea is still being considered.

"That is something that we want to work on," Ricker said. "We need to work with the small water systems to do it in a way that works for them."

In a separate vote, the county board may join a group overseeing management of the Soquel-Aptos groundwater basin. The basin is shared by municipal water suppliers such as Soquel Creek and Central Water District, but 2 of every 5 gallons of water removed from the basin are taken out by private pumpers, over which the county could have some oversight.

But county staffers have recommended rejecting the Soquel Creek district's call to join in the declaration of a groundwater emergency, saying the conditions haven't been met. Such a decision would carry significant land-use consequences, including a moratorium on new hookups — something Soquel Creek itself rejected in June.

"We concur with not implementing a moratorium at this time," Ricker said.

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