FRESH DIRT > Desal plant and water swaps discussed at Tuesday’s meeting
Proponents and opponents of the proposed desalination plant dominated the discussion at the Tuesday, July 26, city council meeting.
Council chambers were crowded as council members heard Santa Cruz Water Department Director Bill Kocher request another $291,000 for the proposed desalination plant to finance an environmental impact report (EIR) that was originally slated to be completed later this year. The report has been post-poned until late winter of next year, when additional research will be completed.
The city council unanimously approved the $291,000 extension of the EIR contract. The council was not without inquiries, however, as Kocher was asked about future construction issues regarding the plant. Vice Mayor Don Lane in-quired about a proposed change in size of the desalination plant from 2.5 million gallons per day (mdg) to 4.5 mgd, to which Kocher replied, “It might need to be expanded.” If it were to be expanded, Kocher explained it would be in one million gallon increments. The idea of expanding the plant is being included in the EIR in consideration of future draught protection and population growth. From 2000 to 2010, Santa Cruz County’s population has increased by 2.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Community members had their concerns, too, as the council heard public comments on the issue. “The money is capital… wherever it comes from, that’s capital our infrastructure badly needs,” said Jack Schultz, a community member.
The EIR is being conducted by San Francisco-based URS Corp., a company that provides infrastructure and technical services to both the public and private sectors worldwide. In 2010, URS Corp. was ranked No. 27 in washington-technology.com’s list of the Top 100 Government Contractors. In May, the com-pany reported $62.1 million in profits. More than compile data for research, URS Corp. provides support and development of nuclear and fossil fuel facilities throughout the globe, including the Middle East. The firm has also secured con-tracts for services in Iraq.
The proposed desal plant is not the only water related issue that was voted on by the council. The council voted unanimously to join a study that would re-search the potential of transferring excess winter water from the San Lorenzo River to neighboring districts. The concept, which is a revival of an alternative drought-fighting measure to swap water between the Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Soquel Creek water districts, was first introduced more than two decades ago.
The idea is that if Santa Cruz shares its water with the other districts during the winter, it would allow their severely depleted groundwater basins to replenish, explained Water Resource Director of Santa Cruz County John Ricker. Santa Cruz relies on surface water for 96 percent of its water, the majority coming from the San Lorenzo River. Soquel Creek and Scotts Valley water districts are 100 percent reliant on ground water. If such a water-transfer measure were to be implemented, compensation for the City of Santa Cruz would be included in the deal.
Community member Ron Pomerantz commented that “no stone should be left unturned” when looking for alternatives to desal. Kocher, however, noted that even if a water transfer were implemented, it would not serve as a substitute for desalination, but rather as a means of providing supplemental benefits down the road.
In an email to council members and local media on Wednesday, July 27, Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives organizer Rick Longinotti thanked the council for agreeing to study the potential for water transfers, and requested that they allow his group to partake in a Joint Fact Finding process.
“I am discouraged at the prospect of a council study session on the five-year plan if it is simply going to be a rehash of past claims such as ‘We already have a water-neutral policy,’” he wrote. “That is why I like the idea of a professionally mediated ‘Joint Fact Finding’ process. Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives is willing to fund a portion of the costs for a professional mediator. The desired outcome would be an agreement on matters of fact. The parties still might disagree on choice of solutions. But there would be a great benefit, for example, in a joint statement of facts about the pros and cons of desalination along with pros and cons of other strategies. This could inform a ballot measure that allows voters to choose their future. A ballot proposition without joint fact finding will be adversarial and it will be hard for voters to evaluate conflicting information.”
Read a Good Times article from February of this year that explores the idea of a water transfer here: goodtimessantacruz.com/santa-cruz-news/santa-cruz-environmental-news/2206-water-to-share.html. Learn more about the proposed desalination project at scwd2desal.org, and about the opposition to it at desalalternatives.org.