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Water Wisdom

Posted on: May 1, 2022

Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Basin Update - May 2022

The Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Basin (Basin) is an essential source of drinking water for our local communities. In addition to being the sole source of water for the Soquel Creek Water District, the water in this basin is shared by the City of Santa Cruz, the Central Water District, other small mutual water companies, and thousands of private-well owners.  

The Challenge and State Mandate: It’s documented and confirmed by the State of California that the basin is critically overdrafted—more water is being pumped out than is naturally replenished by rainfall. Climate change is resulting in more frequent drought conditions, which further reduces this source of freshwater.  

The result is lowered groundwater levels, seawater contamination and reduction in water quality, and a diminishing amount of water to provide for public health, the environment, the economy, and the overall well-being of the community. State law - the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act - requires that the basin be made sustainable by 2040. That means our groundwater supplies must be able to meet current and future needs without causing unacceptable environmental or socioeconomic consequences.  

Groundwater Sustainability Plan:  The good news is that this situation is being addressed as an absolute top priority, right now. On a regional basis, the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency (MGA; including the Soquel Creek Water District) produced a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), a required document by the State of California, that outlines the management actions either underway or to be taken, to achieve this critical goal of groundwater basin sustainability. One key management action included in the GSP is the Pure Water Soquel groundwater replenishment project, which is now under construction and will use purified recycled water to recharge the groundwater basin. Other actions include the City of Santa Cruz’s Aquifer Storage and Recovery program, with implementation in 2023; a water transfer pilot project that is extended through 2026; and key improvements to the network of water monitoring tools, now under construction. 

As these and other groundwater management actions and tools are put into place, we continue to analyze and gain a better understanding of the evolving condition of the groundwater basin, as we all work together to achieve water supply sustainability.  

Water-Year 2021 Annual Report: The MGA is required to provide annual reports on the Basin each year to the state and the latest report was presented to the MGA Board at its March 17 Meeting. Key takeaways from the Annual Report include: 

  • Water-Year 2021 was classified as a critically dry year since only received 53% of average precipitation for this region 
  • The Basin continues to have slightly decreasing coastal groundwater levels compared to last year. 
  • Groundwater extraction basin-wide (by Soquel Creek Water District, City of Santa Cruz, Central Water District, and private pumpers) continues to exceed what is sustainable and replenished by rainfall. 
  • There is one project in construction, Pure Water Soquel, that will replenish the groundwater basin. Other potential projects are being pilot tested: water transfers and aquifer storage and recovery. 

Continuance of A Stage 3 Water Supply Shortage Declaration: The District’s Board extended the Stage 3 declaration through early  2023 at their April 19, 2022 Board meeting.  Soquel Creek Water District has been in Stage 3 since 2014 due to our community's long-term groundwater supply shortage and seawater intrusion. Our conservation goal is to collectively use 25% less water than our expected highest usage of 3,900 acre-feet per year.  

We are facing this persistent, serious water supply situation together, and we’re confident that the actions we’re taking now will reap great benefits in the near future and beyond. The District is working hard with regional partners and we appreciate your ongoing support as we work to bring the groundwater basin into an improved state of sustainability.  

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