By: Dr. Tom LaHue, Vice-President, Soquel Creek Water District Board of Directors
When I first began my service as a board member for Soquel Creek Water District, my primary goal was to do whatever I could to protect our water supply and to have it be sustainable for the long term. This goal is shared by our other board members and by the District's staff. Our goals have not changed and we have made a lot of progress, but we are not there yet. Groundwater is our only source of water. It is critical to secure a supplemental water supply to protect our over-drafted groundwater basin from further seawater intrusion and to ensure water reliability for current and future generations.
As we approach the end of 2017, I want to thank everyone in the community who has taken the time to be involved and engaged with the Soquel Creek Water District. It is with your participation that we have been able to accomplish so much! Your ongoing partnership in the coming year ensures that we will continue to reach our goals on behalf of the community, and productively work toward water supply sustainability.
I'd like to share with you some of our accomplishments and some of the work that lies ahead.
Our Community Water Plan - the District's overarching "path to a reliable water supply" - was updated in 2017, adding stormwater capture to our other current and potential water supply sources. Components of our Community Water Plan include:
- Continued Conservation - by working together, our customers have decreased water use significantly, however overall use has increased slightly in 2017. It is important for us all to remain dedicated to conservation, as it will take many years for our groundwater to recover and it remains threatened by seawater intrusion until it recovers.
- Effective Groundwater Management based upon the best possible scientific information.
- The District recently utilized some truly innovative technology developed in Denmark that allows us to understand the boundaries of freshwater and seawater, which is critical to managing our groundwater to protect against further seawater intrusion.
- A new groundwater model is nearing completion. This will help us more accurately manage the groundwater basin. We are part of the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency - a partnership among the City and County of Santa Cruz, Central Water District, our District, and private well owners-working together to write a Groundwater Sustainability Plan with the goal of achieving a sustainable groundwater basin by the year 2040.
- Possible New Water Supplies
- Groundwater Replenishment - Perhaps most visible among our projects, we took significant steps in our work to explore and evaluate the District's proposed Pure Water Soquel project, aimed at replenishing our groundwater basin. Preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR) was initiated, which is of course a crucial phase. We have put together preliminary terms for obtaining source-water for that project from the City of Santa Cruz. The thoughtful public input we've received has helped in making the determination to only consider treated wastewater for this beneficial reuse - removing possible use of untreated wastewater from any consideration. The District also added two additional sites to consider for the purification plant that is part of the project. An interactive and engaging educational trailer was developed to help community members of all ages to gain a better understanding of Pure Water Soquel and how it fits into the Community Water Plan. It includes hands-on-samples of actual materials involved in the water purification process.
- Water Transfers - We continue to move forward with the evaluation of a pilot project to transfer treated excess winter river water from Santa Cruz and deliver it to the District system, which would allow the District to reduce groundwater pumping. To ensure water quality and safety before any transfer can begin, we initiated a study to evaluate potential water quality issues related to blending surface water with groundwater in the pipeline system. Once we are able to proceed, this could offset one-fifth of the District's water shortage needs. Santa Cruz relies on this water, so the amount available to the District may vary and is not guaranteed.
- Desalination - This project would involve purchasing water from Deep Water Desal in Moss Landing. The project is currently undergoing environmental review and a draft EIR is anticipated to be released in late 2017.
As we look forward to 2018 and beyond, we will focus on continuing to carefully evaluate water supply options so that we will be best prepared to move forward and maximize success in restoring our over-drafted groundwater basin, and achieving sustainability.
Also in 2017, we were proud to receive recognition from a number of organizations: a Certificate of Transparency from the California Special District Association; a Green Business Certification from the Monterey Bay Green Business Council; and a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association.
This year we worked hard in evaluating water rates through our water rates advisory committee, which is comprised of ten customers and two members of the Board of Directors. This partnership allows us to gain the very real perspectives of our ratepayers as we work to make necessary rate adjustments that are fair and equitable, and which offer the District financial stability. Moving forward, our water rate evaluation process will maintain an emphasis on how the District may continue to fund its critical water resource management and water delivery tasks while upholding our commitment to fairness and equity in our rates. At the same time, the District will pursue grants and loans that will aid in reducing costs to our ratepayers.
As we move into a new year, I want to assure our community that the District pledges to continue centering our efforts on our core purpose - providing our customers with a high-quality, reliable, sustainable water supply. We'll do this while keeping a close eye on being fiscally responsible, upholding our obligation to environmental stewardship, and continuing to make it a priority to engage and listen to you - our customers. It's through that collaboration that we can most effectively move forward and build on our success, together.
Dr. Tom LaHue has served on the Board of Directors since 2003 and as President from 2007 to 2014 and 2017. Dr. LaHue is a veterinary surgeon and high school environmental science teacher. He and the Board will be welcoming Dr. Bruce Daniels as President for 2018.