Is desalination in our future?

waterSpecial for the Good Times Newsweekly
Forum Thursday to explore the issue.
Live Oak Elementary School, Thursday, March 18 at 6:15

Despite the fact that we’re in a so-called “El Niño” year, drought, population growth and fear of saltwater intrusion continue to impact water supply in Santa Cruz County.

To address supply concerns, the Santa Cruz Water Department and Soquel Creek Water District are seriously considering a plan to build a desalination plant, to serve Santa Cruz and Live Oak residents in dry years, and Soquel District customers in all other years. Soquel District wants to reduce pumping from the aquifer, which they report is in danger of seawater contamination from over-pumping.

What is desalination, or “desal?”  It is a process that removes salt and other undesirables from seawater so that it can be used for human consumption.

As with any new strategy, establishing a desal plant poses certain costs and benefits.  To explore the issue, a number of local organizations are sponsoring a forum called “It’s Up to our Community.”  The sponsors include Surfrider Foundation, Save Our Shores, Transition Santa Cruz, WILPF, Ecological Landscaping Association, Central Coast Greywater Alliance, Ecology Action and Live Oak Neighbors.

Panelists, moderated by former Assembly member John Laird, will include Debbie Cook, former Mayor of Huntington Beach and Board President of the Post Carbon Institute; Bill Kocher, Director of the Santa Cruz Water Department; Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute, and author of Desalination, With a Grain of Salt; and myself.  More than just a discussion, the sponsoring organizations will seek specific feedback from people who attend the forum.

According to Sarah Mansergh, of the Santa Cruz Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, “Turning seawater into fresh water through this energy intensive process could be a significant new step for this community.  It’s important that people are fully informed of the possibilities.”

In fact, it’s important for water customers in Soquel Creek Water District to know that in 2009 the mild restrictions on water use resulted in a 14% cutback in water use. That’s almost the amount of conservation needed every year to bring water consumption in line with the sustainable yield of the aquifer.  A key question to be explored is whether or not Soquel Creek Water District residents rather incur the financial and environmental costs of the desalination plant, or conserve every year like they did last summer?

For Santa Cruz users, the water supply depends mainly on surface water sources. The Santa Cruz City Water Department plans to use the desalination plant for six months during dry years—averaging one out of six years.  Most drought events are predicted to require curtailments of below 20%.  Similar to Soquel Creek user, the question for Santa Cruz residents is if they would rather incur the expense of a desalination plant or conserve a little more every year

If you’d like to learn more about these issues, as well as the greenhouse gas impacts of the proposed desal plant, please come to Live Oak Elementary School, Thursday, March 18 at 6:15.

Desal: it’s truly up to our community to decide.

Rick Longinotti is the author of the article, “Desalination or Living Within Our Water Limits?”  For more info: transitionsc.org



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