In the News

Santa Cruz water supply panel wraps up work for the year

By JM Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/21/14

Santa Cruz — During its final meeting of the year, a panel charged with eventually making recommendations to city leaders about how to establish and maintain a reliable supply for the drought-prone community weighed the criteria they’ll use to judge alternatives.

The Water Supply Advisory Committee will consider the local economy, political and technical feasibility and regional stability among the factors to consider. But as members began to recognize during meetings Wednesday and Friday, how each of them defines those factors could be different.

There is much work to be done to reach consensus on what it means, for example, for a project to affect the economy or environment or for a plan to receive support from elected officials and voters.

“We do need to have a shared understanding of what the criteria are and what values they represent,” said Mark Mesiti-Miller, an engineer who represents the Chamber of Commerce and also serves on the city’s Planning Commission. “Otherwise what are we doing?”

Since its first meeting in April, the 14-member committee has studied the city’s water system, which is mostly comprised of surface-water sources that suffer during periods like the three-year drought that is now seeing some relief with December’s healthy rainfall. Working with facilitators, the group has considered various models for evaluating alternatives, more than 60 of which were brought to light during a science-fair style event in October.

Proposals include options for storing more water or transferring between regional agencies, as well as increasing the supply of potable water by recycling water or pumping and treating seawater. In the coming year, the group will narrow and test the alternatives and — with the recent disclosure of modeling and forecasting procedures used by the Water Department — seek agreement on the supply-and-demand gap that exists under varying circumstances.

Determining which criteria are most important — from cost to how much water they reliably yield — in determining a project’s merit represents another big challenge in the months ahead.

 “We need to have a unified strategy for how we approach it, not just define it,” said committee member Charlie Keutmann, owner of The Garden Company Nursery and Gift Shop.

The committee formed after the city suspended its pursuit of a joint seawater desalination project with neighboring Soquel Creek Water District, which is seeking a supplemental supply to relieve overdraft in its groundwater basin. The committee will meet twice monthly in 2015.

Meanwhile, the city has suspended fine-based mandatory rationing for residential customers as early seasonal rain has improved surface flow and allowed officials to draw less from Loch Lomond Reservoir. The Water Department, however, asks customers to continue conserving at levels set when rationing began in May. A single-family household of four or fewer people is asked to use about 7,500 gallons or less.

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