Illustration by Louise Leong.
Illustration by Louise Leong.

Those excited about the amount of rainfall Santa Cruz experienced this season may have set their expectations too low.

The amount of water received this year, although significantly better than recent years, is actually what should be expected from an average winter.

“Everybody’s calling this year wet. But it isn’t wet ­— it’s normal,” Bill Kocher, director of the Santa Cruz City Water Commission said.

According to Kocher, Santa Cruz’s watershed, which includes bodies of water like Loch Lomond Resevoir in the Santa Cruz Mountains, currently holds about 54.95 inches of water. That is a significant improvement over last year’s 36.8 inches, and 2008’s 35.5.

“In a normal year, [54.95 inches] is about what we get. In the previous three years, it’s been about half that,” Kocher said. “Overall this year it’s been above average. But not by a lot.”

This year’s amount of rain, although a positive thing, will not completely solve the drought situation in Santa Cruz.

“It doesn’t offset the long-term decline that we’ve been experiencing,” Mike Cloud, a hydrologist for Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Services said.

Cloud went on to explain that “about 80 percent of the county’s water supply is groundwater … if you look at the last 25 years, groundwater levels have dropped some places [in the county] by almost 200 feet.”

But the Water Commission’s Web site states that “for the first time since 2006, water conditions in Santa Cruz are healthy again,” and as a result, there are definite changes that come along with that statement.

The main advantage from this year’s amount of rain is that there will not be extreme water use restrictions this summer, like in 2009, when restrictions prohibited people from filling their pools or watering their lawns on certain days of the week. Those restrictions also forced restaurants to be frugal when bringing their customers water, asked hotels to encourage their patrons to reuse towels, and fined those whose water usage surpassed a specified amount.

“There will not be restrictions this summer,” Kocher said. “That’s the benefit of the rain we’ve gotten. … That’s really the most important thing.”

Although businesses will now have more water at their disposal, some restaurants in Santa Cruz prefer to conserve regardless of what the Water Commission requires them to do.

“At the Saturn Café, we’re really dedicated to the environment, so our plan is to just stick with [the restrictions],” Saturn Café manager Dan Devorkin said.

The Water Commission also implores that individual Santa Cruz residents continue to make wise decisions regarding water usage. A statement on their Web site states: “as always, we ask all customers to continue to use water wisely and remind the public to carefully check their irrigation systems for proper operation at the beginning of the irrigation season to avoid water waste.”

Despite his concerns about the drought, Environmental Health Services’ Cloud is optimistic about the short-term situation.

“Santa Cruz should be in pretty good shape right now,” he said.