Santa Cruz officials defend desalination via media

The general manager of the Soquel Creek Water District and the director of the Santa Cruz Water Department have taken the unusual step of jointly addressing the residents of the Californian city area via the media about the issue of water supply, desalination and population growth — a hot topic in the US state.

The city and district are jointly pursuing seawater desalination as a supplemental water source, which is expected to become available around 2015. As currently envisioned, this facility would add 2.5 MGD (9,500 m³/d) capacity to the city water system, which could provide upwards of 500 million gallons (1.9 million m³) over the dry season as a backup supply in times of drought.

In a column in the Santa Cruz Weekly on 9 September 2009, Laura Brown and Bill Kocher point out that the proposed project will simply reduce the water deficit during drought conditions from 45% to a more manageable 15% — not generate additional water for more growth. Conservation alone cannot remedy the existing shortfall, they state.

“A supplemental supply is needed to meet today’s water use as well as projected demand within the district’s service area through 2050,” say the two water managers. “The district is faced with the serious condition of overdraft of the aquifers underlying the Soquel/Aptos area, currently the sole source of water supply for district customers.”

They point out that the predicted water needs within the unincorporated areas served by the city and the district are consistent with the county’s 1994 General Plan and voter-approved Measure J, which limits growth to 1% per year. The proposed desalination project will be used as a supplemental source during droughts and to restore overdrafted aquifers, Brown and Kocher emphasise.

“It is not designed, or intended, to accommodate Santa Cruz University growth or higher densities than current land use zoning,” they stress. “The joint city/district task force of elected officials will continue to discuss and evaluate the relevant issues as they relate to providing an adequate and sustainable water supply for our customers.”