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Ballot Bound?

waterdropSANTA CRUZ > Campaign to bring desalination to voters kicks off

Close to 100 Santa Cruz residents gathered at India Joze Restaurant on Sunday, Feb. 12 for the “Right to Vote on Desalination” campaign kickoff party.

Opponents of the city’s proposed seawater desalination plant spoke to the assembled crowd about hopes for getting enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot in November that would give residents the ability to vote on the whether the plant would move forward. While the measure does not take a position on desalination, it does put the power to decide on such a project in the hands of voters. It ensures that the city would not “approve, permit, or fund a desalination plant without voter approval,” and that Santa Cruz also does not acquire any more debt for the project until it actually gets passed. According to Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives founder Rick Longinotti, the organizers will need 5,500 signatures by May in order for the measure to get on the November ballot.

Barbara Springer, a Felton resident who attended Sunday’s event, talked to the crowd about how people in her community were able to fight and turn down a proposal that would have given a large German company local control of water in Felton.

“What’s important is to educate people in the community about what’s going on, and to bring them together over important issues like this,” Springer said. “That’s how we were able to generate support against losing control of our water. And really, who would be against the idea of being able to vote?”

Organizers of the event handed out fliers that explained why, in their view, a desalination plant would be too costly and have too much of an environmental impact: “Because of high capital costs and operating costs, the per-gallon cost to produce desalinated water is a hundred times higher than the cost of production of our current water supply,” read the literature. “The potential benefit for Santa Cruz drought security should make it a high priority project for City exploration. There are other strategies that should be studied, such as, use of treated wastewater to recharge aquifers at the coast, satellite wastewater treatment to serve large landscapes, and use of old quarries for aquifer recharge.”

A Draft Environmental Impact Report for the desalination project is expected by the city in April. Anti-desal residents involved in the Right to Vote on Desalination movement plan to launch public education efforts and gather signatures at various places around the city, including New Leaf Community Market, the Downtown Farmers’ Market, and on the UC Santa Cruz campus. To learn more about ballot measure, visit VoteOnDesalSC.org.

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