As Santa Cruz faces its second consecutive dry year, potential water shortage is an increasing threat. The city is struggling to reach a consensus on an additional water source.
Santa Cruz reintroduced potential solutions for a water shortage on Oct. 8 in a public forum. The most contentious subject was the plan for a water desalination plant, which has been indefinitely postponed. According to Rick Longinotti, chair of Santa Cruz Desalination Alternatives, the Oct. 8 meeting was extremely significant in addressing the community’s differing opinions on how to proceed.
“The city, until just recently, named desalination as the preferred option and since desalination had that status, no other options had been considered,” Longinotti said. “What city council did [in the Oct. 8th forum] put desalination on hold to open the way for alternatives to be discussed.”
Currently, all of the city’s commercial and residential water is sourced from North Coast streams, the Loch Lomond Reservoir, the Live Oak wells and the San Lorenzo River, the city’s primary water supplier.
These sources produce enough water during normal seasons, but during periods of drought they are inadequate.
In response to these droughts, water desalination, or the removal or salt and other minerals in order to purify water, was first proposed by the city council in 1977.
However, many residents claim that alternative solutions to the city’s water issues, such as stricter conservation measures, need to be more thoroughly investigated. In response to these concerns, the Santa Cruz city council recently decided to pause plans for a desalination plant in order to reconsider other alternatives.
Opponents of the desalination plans cite expenses and environmental issues as potential problems. A desalination plant would use ten times the amount of energy as the current water system uses, Longinotti said.
“The city leaders who promoted desalination didn’t take into account the environmental values of the citizens of the city,” Longinotti said.
To locals, the clearest motivations for a new water source are the recent drought conditions in Santa Cruz.
According to the city of Santa Cruz’s official website, 2013 is the second consecutive year to face drought conditions, with below average rainfall and runoff rates. Stream flow from the San Lorenzo River declined since December 2012, and while the Loch Lomond River is full, it is no longer overflowing.
Santa Cruz experienced two critical drought periods. One from 1976-1977 and another in 1987-1992 that necessitated intense water rationing.
The Santa Cruz desalination organization website estimates that if Santa Cruz experienced an arid season as severe as the 1976 drought, then the city would underproduce water for its citizens by nearly 40 percent. Countless studies conducted by the Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek water districts state that Santa Cruz needs another water source.
Some residents have concluded that conservation isn’t enough to compensate for future droughts of similar severity. The Santa Cruz water department deemed that desalination would be the most viable water supply, especially during drought conditions.
Toby Goddard, Santa Cruz’s water conservation mangager, emphasized that the city seems largely unaware of its need for a new water source.
“The challenge is in communicating the water supply’s problems, because when we have [droughts] every few years, it’s hard for people to understand and appreciate their severity,” Goddard said.
Whatever the solution, many people engaged in the desalination argument agree that Santa Cruz must come to a consensus soon to prevent a dehydrated catastrophe.
“Nobody in the community is recommending that we do nothing,” Longinotti said.