By Matthew Sommer and Rachel Tennenbaum

The Santa Cruz City Water Department will start cracking down on water wasters, starting May 1.

Users who are reported wasting water by using open hoses and sprinklers will first receive a warning from the Water Department. If the problem persists they may receive a $60 fine. The restriction applies from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., during peak hours of water use.

“This is a critically dry year,” said Toby Goddard, water conservation manager of Santa Cruz. According to Goddard, the last time the water level was critically dry was in the early 90s.

Because irrigation only makes up two percent of water usage, restrictions will not apply to commercial farmers this year. In fact, for some local farmers this dry weather has been a blessing in disguise.

Joshua Thomas, owner of Thomas Farm, grows tulips, Dutch irises, calendulas and other flowers on his twelve-acre property. Flowering usually occurs in a staggered time frame, but the sudden change in temperature and the subsequent dryness caused many of his flowers to bloom at once.

The early rush of flowers has meant good profit for his flower stand at the weekly Santa Cruz farmer’s market.

Robert Serna is also a vendor at the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market, selling citrus fruits for Twin Girls Farm. This year’s cold snap killed 70 percent of Twin Girls’s oranges, but the subsequent warm weather ensured that the remaining 30 percent are great fruit.

“They are survivors,” he said. “They are selling for a much higher price this year.”

Thomas added that the early warm weather forced Twin Girl Farm’s deciduous fruit trees to bloom sooner, meaning that the farm can make a profit off of its peaches and plums earlier in the year.

“The drought won’t hurt us this year,” Serna explained. “We have enough water stored to irrigate this spring and summer. If the weather is like this next year though, we’re in trouble.”

When asked if this year’s weather seemed out of the ordinary in light of global warming, Thomas replied, “[I have] faced drought before, but the flowers did seem to be blooming earlier in the past few years.”

What worries him is that he knows global warming will mean more unstable weather patterns in the future. “[This] is never good news for farmers,” Thomas said. 	

City Water Department Director Bill Kocher explained that the pattern of drought is cyclical, but the Water Department is thinking about future changes in climate.

Santa Cruz has received a state grant for a desalinization plant to convert ocean water into drinking water. Recent research found that the expensive venture will generate approximately 200 million gallons of water a day, which will help ease many residents’ concerns regarding changing weather patterns.