By Laura Fishman

Seven partner agencies in Santa Cruz County are teaming up to carry out 15 high-priority water management projects with new collaborative planning techniques.

The move toward integrated regional water management is intended to promote community collaboration and combine regional management strategies for water resources.

“The state of California is really looking at integration of regional water management planning as a direction they want to see water supply planning move in the future,” said Karen Christensen, executive director of the Santa Cruz County Resource Conservation District.

Funding for the new water projects comes from Proposition 50, the Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002. The State Water Resources Control Board granted money to these projects on March 20, allocating $25 million to be split evenly between Monterey County and Santa Cruz County. Last year $25 million was also given to projects on the Pajaro River, just south of Watsonville.

“The proposed projects would be too expensive to complete without the grant money,” said Soquel Creek Water District General Manager Laura Brown. “So it is very important.”

One of the high-priority water projects in Santa Cruz focuses on conserving and protecting the county’s natural wetlands. Jim Van Houten, president of the non-profit organization Watsonville Wetlands Watch, is excited about future expenditures towards community wetland preservation.

“With recent new funds, we’re working to enhance natural areas with native animals and plants, and to improve water quality,” Van Houten said.

The organization also provides education to schools and to the public about the county’s degraded wetland habitat and surrounding area.

“We have a very supportive community behind this,” Van Houten said. “We certainly provide a great place for UC students, researchers, and the general public to learn about local plant and animal systems.”

Soquel Creek Water District General Manager Laura Brown is working with several other groups of the integrated regional water management on a separate project related to the Santa Cruz County water supply.

“We have an area-wide shortage of water,” Brown said. “It’s necessary that we act now by developing better management of our sewer facilities.”

Water management planners in the Santa Cruz area are doing their best to keep the county’s water supply completely local. Planners might use new technology to improve water efficiency by better managing ground pumping machines.

According to Karen Christenson, executive director of the Santa Cruz County Resource Conservation District, the community has responded positively to the millions of dollars spent on clean water projects.

“I think it’s a great use of the money,” Christenson said. “We’ve had a terrific response from the community with over 60 letters of support.”

Christenson strongly believes success will result from the collaboration of the different agencies.

“It’s a terrific project,” Christenson said. “It’s great that we’re finally looking at the integration of our resource values.”