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Water Boarding

faucet-dripCity of Santa Cruz begins selection of new Water Supply Advisory Committee

In October, in the wake of a decision to hit pause on desal talks, City of Santa Cruz officials directed city staff to develop a detailed community engagement program for the examination of the city’s water supply issues. That included the formation of a professionally facilitated Water Supply Advisory Committee.

Officially, the stated objective of the committee is “to explore, through an iterative, fact-based process, the city’s water profile, including supply, demand and future threats; analyze potential solutions to deliver a safe, adequate, reliable and environmentally sustainable water supply, and to develop strategy recommendations for city council consideration.”

The prospective members of the citizen advisory committee certainly have their work cut out for them. The committee primarily will be tasked with formulating recommendations to the city council for drought water supply options.

Creation of the committee comes as Gov. Jerry Brown has declared an official drought state of emergency for the state of California. In his January announcement, Brown directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for drought conditions.

“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” Brown said.

The governor is directing state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters, as well as initiating an expanded public awareness campaign aimed at water conservation.

Communities around the state face water shortfalls due to what meteorologists have declared the driest year in recorded state history. In fact, state officials said on Jan. 28 that 17 communities throughout the state are in danger of running out of water in 60 to 120 days. That includes the Lompico Water District, which serves 500 customers in the San Lorenzo Valley. The district’s board implemented a mandatory water-rationing program on Jan. 21 but the shortage problems remain.

The problems of nearby Lompico could serve to emphasize the need for action in Santa Cruz, underscoring the importance of finding solutions.

The city’s water supply advisory committee will spend the next 12 months analyzing potential solutions for the water supply shortage issues and looking at ways of creating and delivering an environmentally sustainable water supply. The committee will also be tasked with analyzing and providing comments on the Habitat Conservation Plan, the Master Conservation Plan, and other plans. In the initial description of the committee, city officials said they envisioned it as a sophisticated body that will dive deeply into increasingly complex data and information as it proceeds through its work plan.

Applications to be a part of the 14-member committee were accepted through Jan. 15. Those will now be reviewed by an ad-hoc committee of three city council members, which will provide the city council with a list of nominees for review and acceptance later this month.

“We received well over 50 applications—maybe even closer to 100,” says Scott Collins, assistant city manager for the City of Santa Cruz. “We were very happy with the level of interest across the community.”

The selected members will include three representatives each from environmental and business groups, three Santa Cruz city residents, one non-city resident water customer, one representative of Desal Alternatives, one representative of the Sustainable Water Coalition and two members of the city’s Water Commission.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold told Good Times in January that he was happy there would be a member from outside the City of Santa Cruz, though “concerns remain that representation is disproportionate to the number of ratepayers outside the City of Santa Cruz.”

The city’s water district serves more than 30,000 residents in the Live Oak area Leopold represents, yet they have no elected representation in the management of the system, says Leopold.

Collins emphasized the city’s desire to ensure the committee is diverse.

“We want to make sure it’s really balanced,” says Collins, adding that a final selection should be made in February. “We’d like to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later.”

The decision to form such a committee was born largely out of vocal community opposition that arose around plans for a seawater desalination plant that would have been shared with the Soquel Creek Water District. Many community members felt the city was not communicating sufficiently with residents about water supply problems. As a result, city officials stepped back from desalination plans late last year and have launched a number of efforts to engage the public in the ensuing discussions. That included hiring Eileen Cross in April to help with the city’s communications needs on the draft Environmental Impact Report preparation, hiring a new communications specialist dedicated to the water department, and holding a series of events geared at educating the public about local water issues.

“The committee’s work is critically important to the process of developing recommendations for consideration by the city council,” Mayor Lynn Robinson said in a press release in December. “We’re very encouraged by the initial community interest in this process and are confident that the committee will have well-qualified representatives from throughout the Santa Cruz water service area.” 

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