By Melanie Mow Schumacher, PE
There’s a lot of talk these days about “fake” news, “alternative facts,” and general mistrust of the media. With multiple sources of news available, it’s important to understand and separate the information from misinformation that we all are bombarded with. For example, take a look at these recent statements that have been made about mid-county water issues – which ones do you think are true and which ones are false?
“Now that the drought is over, our water problems are solved.”
This statement is False
Unfortunately, the mid-county water challenges are due to an overdrafted groundwater basin – our only source of water – compounded by seawater contamination at the coastline. While many communities that depend on rainfall and surface water sources like rivers (such as the City of Santa Cruz) will get some respite this year, rainfall can take years to reach the deep underground aquifer layers from which we get our drinking water. In fact, it would take many, many years of above average rainfall to replenish our critically overdrafted basin.
The long-term goal for our mid-county groundwater basin is sustainability, a mandate by the State that we must meet by 2040. In addition to continued water conservation, projects such as storm water capture (like at Polo Grounds Park), water transfers between agencies, and groundwater replenishment like Pure Water Soquel are needed. While the rain this season helps, it doesn’t solve the mid-county groundwater basin’s long-term challenge.
“Water transfers with the City of Santa Cruz would cost a fraction of the cost for the Pure Water Soquel Project and can be started immediately.”
This statement is True AND False: further explanation
It’s true that the City of Santa Cruz (City) and Soquel Creek Water District (District) are working together on a short-term (5-year) pilot project for the District to purchase a small amount of treated water (up to 300 acre-feet per year) from the City’s north coast sources at a reasonable “introductory” price.
However, it is false that a longer-term (20+ years) water transfer with a potentially larger volume of treated water from San Lorenzo River (upwards of 1,500 acre-feet per year) would cost less that the Pure Water Soquel Project.
Currently, the published cost estimates for various options are based on differing levels and assumptions, so direct comparisons are challenging. For Pure Water Soquel (the groundwater replenishment project using purified recycled water), the current capital cost estimate is $59-$72 million.
The water transfer project’s capital cost estimates developed and published by the City of Santa Cruz are $131-$159 million (depending on whether aquifer storage and recovery wells are needed for the City). As the projects become more defined, cost estimates can be refined, partners and cost splits could be considered, etc., and thus the final cost estimates will vary.
It’s also not true that river water transfers can start immediately. Even for the short-term pilot project, we need approval from the State to amend our drinking water permit before we serve blended groundwater/surface water. For the longer-term project with treated San Lorenzo River water, the City is evaluating the infrastructure needed (such as necessary upgrades to its treatment plant and new pipelines) and the modifications to its water rights (which could take several years). If the District decides to partner on this longer-term project, it would need to go through environmental review, permitting, design, and construction.
“Soquel Creek Water District continues to allow development to occur even with a water shortage problem.”
This statement is True … partially
A more balanced and comprehensive statement would be: “Soquel Creek Water District allows development to occur even with a water shortage problem because it requires any new development to be water neutral (no additional impact).”
Since 2003, the District’s Water Demand Offset (WDO) Program requires that any new development offset its anticipated water use. Currently, new service applicants must meet their offset requirement by paying a WDO fee equivalent to $55,000 per acre-feet of water whereby 50% of the fees go toward long-term water conservation projects (e.g., stormwater recharge, smart metering, etc.) and 50% of the fees go toward funding the enhanced $300 toilet rebate program.
“Soquel Creek Water District is only looking at Pure Water Soquel as a new supply project.”
This statement is False
As part of its Community Water Plan, the District is looking at three supply options: river water transfers with the City of Santa Cruz, desalination with DeepWater Desal in Moss Landing, and the Pure Water Soquel project. All three options are “on the table” as these projects are currently undergoing feasibility and evaluation. A balanced solution may include pairing options together such as river water transfer and the Pure Water Soquel project as a diversified water portfolio can help to achieve water sustainability.
As always, if you have any questions about this month’s topic or anything else related to Soquel Creek Water District, feel free to contact Melanie Mow Schumacher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 831-475-8501 x153 and visit www.soquelcreekwater.org.