By Dr. Tom LaHue, President, Soquel Creek Water District Board of Directors
As we approach the end of 2022, I want to say that I sincerely hope it has been a good year for you – our customers, community members, and all who read this article and have an interest in the Soquel Creek Water District. Here at the District 2022 has been a remarkable year, and I’d like to share with you a brief overview of some great things that we’ve accomplished – entirely focused on delivering, protecting, and enhancing the water supply on which we all depend.
I am excited about the significant progress on our Pure Water Soquel (PWS) project, which will create a drought-proof, sustainable water supply by purifying recycled water and using it to replenish our overdrafted groundwater basin. I am happy to report on several milestone accomplishments in 2022 on construction on the eight-mile dual pipeline (80% complete) and the advanced water purification center (30% complete). And, not related to construction but important for the project’s recognition and awareness, the staff-designed “butterfly” logo for PWS earned an award from the California Association of Public Information Officials, as one of 2022’s most creative and effective communications/marketing efforts by a public agency.
During 2022 we also continued our remarkable record of gaining significant funding support for PWS. In October the California State Water Resources Control Board awarded us additional Proposition 1 funds – a $13.25 million grant and a $13.25 million low-interest (1.6%) loan. This is in addition to a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation grant for $21 million for PWS which was awarded during the summer.
To top off the year, I am so proud of our staff and our partners for their work in 2022 to bring international attention to Pure Water Soquel, with a mini-documentary about the project. We are one of two chosen in the United States of the 16 short films produced by BBC StoryWorks as part of their series called "Beneath the Surface: The Journey of Water," presented by the International Water Association, which highlights innovation and innovators who are advancing positive change toward water sustainability. See them all at bbc.com/storyworks/specials/beneath-the-surface.
To help us stay on track with the evolving needs of our community and changing circumstances, the Board updated our Strategic Plan which consists of the District’s Mission Statement, Values, and Primary Organizational Goals. Our mission continues to be that we are dedicated to providing a safe, high quality, reliable, and sustainable water supply to meet our community’s present and future needs in an environmentally sensitive and economically responsible manner. The Plan helps us stay aligned with our customers and community, and to most effectively allocate resources to accomplish the desired goals (keeping in mind that financial resources are limited). This is an important tool to help us best provide you with water for today and for decades to come. It guides not only our overall direction but also our departmental implementation plans and ultimately the day-to-day efforts of our staff.
As part of the District’s core business of providing you with water, we gained State approval of our Urban Water Management Plan, which outlines how we will achieve a sustainable water supply. We have also completed upgrading all water meters to i-Meters (intelligent metering technology), making it easier for you to track water use and get timely alerts about leaks or unusual, excessive use. Our ongoing commitment to ensuring you have safe, clean water included conducting over 13,000 drinking water quality tests, repairing several water main and service pipeline leaks, and conducting maintenance of our infrastructure, while providing water to our customers, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
We are proud to have won and been recognized as one of the Top 10 award winners by Government Technology in the leadership category for their 2022 District Innovation Awards program. The District was also recognized again with the Transparency Award from the Special District Leadership Foundations, the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association and the Operating Budget of Excellence Award from the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers.
Our Outreach team has been able to return to public events this year and October brought the return of the in-person Water Harvest Festival, which was relegated to online-only during the prior two years of the pandemic. Several hundred people came to enjoy great music, water-related information and resources, and fun family activities – there was a clear sense of celebration at having this beloved event once again in-person!!
On the infrastructure front, we have some big capital improvement projects that have ended and are beginning. We installed 3,400 feet of new water main on Cliff Drive and Bayview Drive. We also began construction on a replacement well for the 70-year-old Country Club Well. And we were awarded funds this year from a $7.6 million grant that the Mid-County Groundwater Agency received from the California Department of Water Resources Sustainable Groundwater Management Grant Program that will be used to design and partially-fund building a new well on Cunnison Lane. Cunnison Lane is part of our Well Master Plan where we are shifting our pumping away from the coast. All of these will improve our system’s resiliency.
Finally, thank you to the community for all your support during 2022, and I hope you share my optimism for 2023 in all things water, and beyond!
Dr. LaHue has served on the Board of Directors since 2003 and is serving his 11th term as President of the Board. He is also the District representative and current Chair on the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency, and serves on the District’s Water Resources Management and Infrastructure Committee. Dr. LaHue is a former member and vice-chair of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. He holds a BS in Biological Science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from UC Davis, and a teaching credential from California State University, Monterey Bay.