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Water Talks

water tapSANTA CRUZ > City council approves UCSC water expansion policy

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously passed a water expansion measure for UC Santa Cruz that would enable the university to not have to pay for water conservation measures that would offset water growth demand until they reach a baseline of 206 million gallons a year. This baseline number is based off of the water demand from 1997.

 

The proposal was met with a fair amount of opposition from members of the public who came to Tuesday’s meeting, as well as from representatives of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives.

Ron Pomerantz, a local environmentalist and retired firefighter, proposed lowering the baseline for the university to an average number that would better reflect the water demands of other developers in the city. “This would better reflect customer equality,” he said. “It’s not as if the university would be punished by this. It would encourage them to speed up water conservation actions.”

Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives founder Rick Longinotti added, “If the university doesn’t pay for this, then the burden will fall on the rest of the customers. Every developer has to pay a water hookup fee. There’s no reason why UCSC shouldn’t pay it.”

Longinotti also brought up the fact that the recent requirements of federal and state fisheries agencies for the upcoming year also posed some problems for the university’s water expansion plans. “They’re asking for a conservation strategy that would implement Tier 3 flows,” he said. “That’s a tall order. Until we work out how much water to leave in the streams, we won’t know how much water the university and the rest of the city can use. We need a new conservation plan.”

Bill Kocher, the director of the Santa Cruz Water Department, told the council that, “a Tier 3 flow means leaving 80 percent of the flow in the streams unimpaired. We would need nine million more gallons a year. That just can’t happen.”

Kocher also went on to mention that an average-based baseline would institutionalize anomalies such as the fact that last year was unusually foggy and that, as a result, not as much water was used. He also pointed out that the amount of students living on campus has grown a lot since 2003, and that the ensuing water demands would not be met.

“UCSC’s water projections have actually been way more effective than other developers,” said councilmember Ryan Coonerty. “Last year, they cut their water usage down by more than 30 million gallons, which exceeded the agreement they made. If the university doesn’t implement a water-neutral strategy, then there will be less kids up on campus, and more kids living in the neighborhoods where they will end up using more water. I’d like to remind everyone that the university pays for growth, and their growth is offset by putting aside the funds saved for water conservation.”

To this, Mayor Don Lane added, “There seems to be a lot of assumption from people in the community that UCSC is getting special treatment, but they’re paying extra for their expansion, and not creating any new demands on the system.”

After the deliberation, the city council unanimously voted for the water-neutral expansion measure to be adopted.

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