In the News

Soquel Creek Water District to weigh rationing plan

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel 12/25/13

SOQUEL -- When Soquel Creek Water District officials return from a winter break, they will resume taking a close look at alternatives to a joint desalination project, the fate of which won't be known for at least a year.

The district's board will revisit Jan. 7 its policy of enacting 35 percent mandatory rationing for customers to rest overtaxed aquifers that are susceptible to saltwater intrusion. The district needs to cut pumping by about the same rate for 20 years to restore its groundwater basin.

The five-member board previously approved a plan to enact mandatory cutbacks in the absence of a new supply source, but General Manager Kim Adamson said the board needs to more closely examine the costs and feasibility, including whether to phase in the rationing.

Adamson said the rationing -- which would involve replacing lawns and high water-using fixtures -- could cost the district more than $100 million and engender customer resistance. If other supply opportunities came along after the rationing started that cost $50 million to $100 million -- such as a greater reliance on recycled water, regional water transfers and other measures -- the district would face difficulty funding them simultaneously.

"We couldn't do that; we are not a large enough district to fund that," Adamson said. "We need to know how the program is going to be laid out. We need to get the board to approve a phased approach."

Adamson said rationing is the "fallback position" if desal doesn't come to pass. The city of Santa Cruz, the district's partner is a $130 million desal proposal, has hit the pause button on planning in favor of a new year-long public-led study of alternatives.

"If we don't get more water, we have to cut," Adamson said. "We have no other option other than seawater intrusion. It will be a choice for customers" on whether to create supply or reduce use.


In December, the board took a big step to protect the safety of water that already exists by approving an agreement with a British firm to provide a demonstration plant to remove the naturally occurring compound chromium 6, which can be toxic at high levels.

The plan, which involves the district paying about $10,000 per month for a year to rent the plant, is expected to be in place by April. The 1,000-gallon-per-minute facility will build on research conducted by a pilot plant in operation from April to August of this year.

The British firm asked the district to keep the pilot plant to test the removal of brine and will now pay for it to be shipped to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District for further testing on final disposal.

Adamson said the district will seek a state permit to operate a permanent treatment facility if the demonstration site performs as well as the pilot plant in removing chromium 6 from underground water.

Adamson said she is certain the financial risk faced by the district in participating in the research will pay off.

"It is a lot easier to sit back and let someone else do the work up front and wait until everything has been approved and then build it," she said.

Four of the district's wells have chromium 6 levels exceeding new draft drinking water standards released by the state in August.

The district stopped normal operation of a La Selva Beach well with the highest concentration and has activated other wells to produce water for areas served by the others.

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WHAT: Board discussion about mandatory rationing policy WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 7 WHERE: Captiola City Council Chamber, 420 Capitola Ave. INFORMATION:

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