By Dr. Bruce Daniels, 2018 President, Board of Directors
Soquel Creek Water District has made great progress in the last year in some major goals: To deliver safe, high-quality water to our customers 365 days a year, 24 hours a day in a fiscally responsible manner while evaluating new sustainable water supplies to stave off saltwater intrusion.
After completing extensive water quality testing and amending our safe drinking water permit, the District has scheduled surface water transfers from the City of Santa Cruz to begin in early December as part of a pilot study. This water purchase is a really good start, but the amount is limited to only two years of 300 acre-feet maximum. This cannot, by itself, solve our groundwater supply's critical need of 1,500 acre-feet a year to get us out of the deficit pumping that threatens further saltwater intrusion. We will continue to collaborate with the City to get a better understanding of future costs (transfers may also be more expensive per gallon than other alternatives) and how much water the City may want us to transfer back (when they need water to meet drought conditions).
The Pure Water Soquel Project -a proposed groundwater replenishment and seawater intrusion prevention project - could provide the sustainable supply we've been looking for since Santa Cruz withdrew from our joint desalination project's evaluation in 2013. Let me help clear up the misinformation - this is a project that uses advanced water purification methods to purify recycled water for replenishing the groundwater basin and protecting against seawater intrusion. If you hear misinformation that this project would inject sewage water, please be a myth-buster and dispel this rumor. This purified water is cleaner than treated groundwater and surface water. A draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been prepared and a final EIR is anticipated to be completed by the end of the year.
In the meantime, District staff has been lining-up ways that such a project might be funded if the EIR is approved. About $2 million in grants has been secured for planning and evaluation and another $70 million is possible only if the project can be constructed by 2022 - a very tight schedule.
The District has won a national award for the transparency of our financial planning process. Careful of any unwise increase to water rates, the District has tightened the belt and increased public involvement beyond required public hearings. A new Water Rates Advisory Committee includes eleven members of the public, and our District standing committees now include at least two public members, so we can hear and incorporate our customers' perspectives. Since emergencies and unforeseen conditions can arise which may impact our best-laid plans and budget, the Board added a new reserve fund to provide a safety net to infrastructure enhancement.
And we are proud to offer new rebates and opportunities for customers to conserve water and the Board continues to support raising awareness of the critically needed action towards sustainability. Take advantage of the District's award-winning education and outreach programs to learn more. Please visit the new Water Learning Center at the District office or sign up for the next Water Wise Academy. You can always make an appointment or chat at an informal Coffee Talk with your Board of Directors, who are here to serve you.
Significant progress in the last year is heartening since our recent studies show that salt-water intrusion is along our entire coastline and isn't some far-distant threat. Drought and climate change are complicating planning efforts in agencies all over our burning state, not just here.
Since 2000, it has been a pleasure serving on the Board of Soquel Creek Water District. I look forward to working together with the rest of the Board, staff, and our customers-acting as a community - to stave off seawater intrusion in our groundwater basin and to protect our drinking water.