Santa Cruz City Council candidates deliberate on water issues
It’s not often that competing politicians agree. But in this year’s Santa Cruz City Council race, all of the contenders—rather, all five of those in attendance at the Oct. 6 forum at the Louden Nelson Community Center—see eye to eye on one issue: water.
A crowd of Santa Cruzans filled the hall to hear David Terrazas, Lynn Robinson, David Foster, Ron Pomerantz and Steve Pleich speak about what water supply strategies they will support if they are elected on Nov. 2.
Attendees were informed that candidate Hilary Bryant was home with a fever, but Kevin Moon, who does not appear at forums regularly, and Gus Ceballos, who is known to play the “I haven’t done my homework on this issue” card, were both missing in action.
The present candidates were asked to answer three questions: if voters should be allowed to decide on whether to proceed with desalination; if the candidates would allow growth in water demand before knowing the extent of the federal government’s reduction in Santa Cruz water rights to local streams; and if they will re-do the city’s Integrated Water Plan to allow consideration of alternatives to desalination.
Much to the excitement of the audience—some of whom were holding signs that read: “De$$$$alination vs. Con$ervation, which would you choose?”—all of the candidates expressed an adamant interest in exploring conservation options before considering desalination. They were also in favor of putting all water decisions up to a public vote.
The arguments made against desalination—a high cost, fossil fuel dependent, and greenhouse gas producing method of turning salt water into fresh water—are that it will cause a significant increase in our carbon footprint and our impact on the marine environment.
“Desal is the ultimate last resort,” said Pomerantz. “Other options must be explored first before it’s too late to change course and what happened in Santa Barbara—where they don’t even use their desal plant—happens here.”
Instead of proceeding with a desalination plan, local water activist Rick Longinotti suggested (and the five candidates agreed to) increase conservation efforts by exploring new options such as rainwater catchment, composting toilets, water conserving showerheads, turf replacement, greywater systems, off-stream storage and waterless urinals.
After all, according to Longinotti’s presentation on behalf of sustainability group Transition Santa Cruz, even Cameron Diaz abides by the phrase, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”
While Longinotti believes that conservation will maximize reservoir storage for times of drought, he also suggests looking to our neighbors in Soquel for help.
James Bentley presented the idea of swapping water with Soquel Creek Water District at the forum. In previous years, the idea never progressed further than conducting a water supply study because of restricting water rights and low impact on curtailment. But, today, Bentley believes it could make a big difference. The swap would mean that in winter, Santa Cruz would offer its excess water to Soquel so they could rest their wells. Once their aquifers are recovered, they would send water back. Though the plan is far from airtight—it’s unknown whether Soquel will have water to send back—according to Bentley, the swap has the potential of being 20 to 35 percent cheaper than desalination.
All but Councilmember Robinson, who is up for reelection, seemed sold on the Soquel swap idea. “It’s not necessarily the most viable answer,” says Robinson, who spent the night defending the city council’s past decisions. “There’s no guarantee that they can help us.”
The candidate consensus—sans Foster, who claimed to not know the answer—regarding whether to allow growth in water demand before knowing the federal government’s reduction in Santa Cruz water rights, is that the community needs cautious planning to examine all strategies before making shortsighted decisions that could hurt the water supply in the long run.
“We need focus groups with every citizen in this town,” says Pleich. “Let’s listen to every voice on this issue, then let’s come up with a solution.”
The bottom line for the contenders seems to be that time is not of the essence when it comes to finding the best water strategy for Santa Cruz. By exploring new options for conservation, sitting down with locals and assessing their needs, revising the Integrated Water Plan and putting all decisions to a community vote, they hope to slow the process down in favor of big picture planning.
“We need to look and see if the Integrated Water Plan is up-to-date based on newlyavailable conservation programs and [then] reevaluate if necessary,” says Terrazas. “If that means a delay in order to get the right solution for the community, then so be it.”