Last month my son, who is a freshman at Soquel High School, had to write a persuasive essay for his geography class on his opinion of what has a greater impact: humans on Earth or Earth on humans - with an added emphasis on specifics within Santa Cruz County. I enjoyed watching him collect information and research historical data pertaining to our region and the impacts related to air, land, animals, and water. He identified both positive and negative impacts. Intrigued by his recent assignment, I thought I'd focus this month's article on my perspectives on the impacts related to water in the Santa Cruz Mid-County region. Do we humans have more impact on the environment and groundwater supply, or are some impacts naturally-occurring which lead to having an effect on humans? And, would I consider them negative or positive impacts? Let's look at a few current water issues:
- Overdraft of the Groundwater Basin - This issue is definitely caused by historical over-pumping of the groundwater basin that exceeded what could naturally be replenished by rainfall. Thus, this has negatively impacted our limited groundwater supply and caused seawater intrusion and contamination to occur at both ends of our groundwater basin. The drinking water wells for Soquel Creek Water District are still extracting fresh groundwater; however, the threat of seawater intrusion moving farther inland could result in our wells becoming contaminated and unusable.
- Water Conservation and Developing New Supplies - By using less water, Santa Cruz County residents are having a positive impact on reducing their water footprint and stretching out our limited water supply. The average water consumption by our customers is around 50 gallons per person per day, which is amazing compared to the statewide average of 85 gallons per day. The District also enforces a Water Demand Offset program where any new development in our water service area is required to not only have a zero water footprint but also contribute to our water conservation program. And, to address the groundwater shortage issue identified above, the District is evaluating and working toward developing a new source of water supply. As part of our Community Water Plan, supplies such as river water transfers, purified recycled water, desalination, and storm-water recharge are all currently being evaluated.
- Water Quality - The District's number one priority is providing all of our customers with a safe and reliable supply of water. We regularly test for over 140 constituents and are proud to report that the water we serve meets or exceeds the State and Federal drinking water standards. Some constituents in the groundwater are naturally occurring, such as iron, manganese, chromium-6, and arsenic, and the District currently treats the water for all of these. However, not all chemicals in our groundwater supply are naturally occurring. For example, 1,2,3-Trichloropropane (TCP) is a man-made chemical and typically introduced to groundwater through past agricultural use of soil fumigants. The District has stopped providing customers water from the one well in our system that is impacted by TCP and is evaluating treatment solutions. Thus, in terms of water quality - the impacts can both be human-caused as well as naturally occurring.
- Development of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) - As part of a statewide mandate, the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency (MGA) was formed in 2016 to develop a long-range plan to ensure our critically over-drafted groundwater basin is sustainable by 2040. The MGA is an 11-member board comprised of two representatives each from the City of Santa Cruz, Soquel Creek Water District, Central Water District, and Santa Cruz County and three private well representatives. The MGA meets every other month and is currently focusing its efforts on developing a GSP advisory committee to help develop that plan. The intent of the GSP is to positively impact and develop a sustainable groundwater supply for future generations.
As we humans around the world continue to develop communities where we live and play, we are becoming more aware and conscious of the impacts we have on our surroundings and the environment. For example, kudos to our County for making strides in reducing pollution with actions such as the bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam. Our water supplies are also a precious resource and our community continues to move forward in taking positive actions to protect our environment, while still providing a thriving economy and an enriching quality of life here along the Central Coast.
As always, if you have any questions about this month's topic, our Community Water Plan, or anything else related to Soquel Creek Water District, feel free to email Melanie Mow Schumacher or call 831-475-8501, ext. 153.