Soquel Creek board won’t block new service


CAPITOLA >> The Soquel Creek Water District board voted 3-2 on Tuesday to take the first step toward declaring a groundwater emergency but passed on enacting a moratorium on new hook-ups.

During a meeting that drew hundreds to New Brighton Middle School, the board approved proceeding to a Stage 3 Water Shortage Emergency — a step up from voluntary cutbacks in place for a year — that requires restaurants to serve water only upon request from customers, allow vehicle washing only at facilities that primarily use recycled water and other measures.

The simultaneous pursuit of a groundwater emergency declaration will allow even more aggressive measures, including a moratorium and request that the county ban new wells and restrict existing ones. The board is required to identify a health and public safety threat — likely to be saltwater intrusion encroaching on district and private wells — but county officials don’t support an emergency declaration or moratorium.

The board could consider a formal emergency declaration as early as June 17 as well as a plan to charge developers an across-the-board fee for new water service rather than enact a moratorium or continue allowing them to replace toilets and conduct other offsets elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the district plans to enact residential water budgets by early 2015, and emergency rate increases of 36 percent will go into effect July 1 to cover revenue losses from reduced water sales.

Board Vice President Bruce Daniels led the charge for the emergency declaration and moratorium, saying without a new supply on the horizon — 10 years is the estimate — the district must take big steps so citizens understand the conundrum. He said the city of Santa Cruz had “cut and run” on joint plans to build a seawater desalination plant and he doesn’t believe development offsets will save enough water.

“We are doing it slowly because we will probably be doing it for 20 or 30 years,” Daniels said in response to a question about why the district is not taking more immediate measures, such as the rationing this summer like drought-stricken Santa Cruz.

Board members Bruce Jaffe and Rick Meyer agreed with Daniels on the emergency declaration, but none supported his call for a moratorium.

“The stakes are so high I want to error on the side of caution with seawater coming into the aquifer and polluting it with salt,” Jaffe said. However, he said the negative impacts of a moratorium would be too great and he hopes revamping the offset program and asking customers to use less will work.

Board President Thomas LaHue, who along with member Don Hoernschemeyer, said he disagreed with declaring an emergency “just to get people’s attention.”

The two also did not support a moratorium, which the audience overwhelmingly opposed. Residents warned of dire economic consequences especially given the district’s admission that a ban on new hook-ups during the next 20 years would reduce only 2 percent of demand on the entire basin, and that’s without offsets.

“It’s not a solution; it’s a splinter distracting us,” said Mark Spurlock, executive pastor at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos. “Why add real pain when there is no real gain?”

Article- J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel

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