Surface Water Transfers

About Surface Water Transfers

Surface water transfers include imported excess winter river water that is treated at the City of Santa Cruz Graham Hill Treatment Plant and delivering it to the Soquel Creek Water District distribution system. We are currently collaborating with the City of Santa Cruz on a 5-year pilot project (2015 to 2020) whereby the District is purchasing a small amount of excess water in the winter to evaluate water quality conditions when blending surface water and groundwater. Read more about the pilot.

The District has been looking into this for some time and has actively participated in studies with the County of Santa Cruz, City of Santa Cruz, and Scotts Valley Water District. Limitations with this type of project include the reliable amount of water that could be available since it would only be during the wintertime, and the difficulties with obtaining the required water rights and ensuring meeting environmental requirements (such as fishflow and protecting critical habitat); however, the District continues to be interested in evaluating surface water options to augment other supplies and address part of the water shortage problem.

Did You Know

A water transfer project is dependent on collaboration with the City of Santa Cruz as Soquel Creek Water District doesn't own any water rights for surface water or operate/maintain a surface water treatment facility. We are continuing to work with the City as they evaluate how they can proceed with surface water maximization to meet their drought needs and how much water would be available for other neighboring agencies, such as Scotts Valley Water District and Soquel Creek Water District. The City will be completing their feasibility and proof-of-concept analysis, which will be completed in 2020.

Below are useful links related to water transfers to help provide information to misinformation and perspectives that we often hear in the community. From the City of Santa Cruz officials: 

Since these limitations exist, the District continues to develop the Pure Water Soquel Project and is interested in the potential of purchasing a small amount of surface water (following successful completion of the pilot testing and if made available by the City) to diversify our water portfolio and recognizes that surface water alone will not solve our challenge of providing water reliability to our customers and environmental stewardship to the groundwater basin.


Pilot Project

  • What are we evaluating with the pilot project?
  • Water Quality Testing, Phase 2 - Winter 2019 to 2020: The western portion of our service area (approximately 5,300 service connections) received surface water intermittently from December 6, 2019 through January 31, 2020. The transfer period was cut short due to City of Santa Cruz Water Department operational issues and fish flow requirements. Almost 104 acre feet of water was transferred.
  • Water Quality Testing, Phase 1 - Winter 2018 to 2019: An isolated zone in the western portion of our service area (approximately 2,300 service connections) received surface water from December 3, 2018 through April 30, 2019. Over 165 acre feet of water were transferred. 
    • Press release
    • Water Quality Results
  • Water Quality Testing, Benchtop - Benchtop Testing was completed in mid-2018. A presentation by Black and Veatch was presented to the Board on July 17, 2018. To access information: 
  • The City of Santa Cruz Water Department offered to sell excess winter river water (Pre-1914 water rights) to the District, and the agreement was finalized in September 2015 and amended in July 2016. In March 2021, the agreement was extended to May 1, 2026. In addition to the time extension request, the main revision to the agreement is an increase in the price of the water from $1,000 to $1,930 per million gallons. Read the Cooperative Water Transfer and Purchase Agreement (PDF). The associated District memo is available as Item 7.5 of the March 2, 2021 Board Packet
  • Initial Study-Negative Declaration (PDF) (January 2016).
  • Evaluating water quality impacts with purchasing surface water from the City of Santa Cruz - Tech Memo (PDF) by Black and Veatch (June 2016)
  • Flushing our District pipelines and Amending our DDW Permit