“The Soquel Creek Water District’s board of directors moved from voluntary water cutbacks to enacting a Stage 3 Water Shortage Emergency without significant discussion, other than about how long the status would continue. A groundwater emergency declaration was also approved, with no public comment.
The evening’s two votes were a marked contrast to the board’s June 3 meeting, where an estimated 400 people attended and 40 people spoke at the meeting.
Proposed modifications to the district’s existing Water Demands Offsets Program, however, did raise some protest from several developers. The existing program allows developers to offset the increased burden of water use arising with new developments with various water-conversation methods, often replacement of residential toilets with low-flow models.
The program remodel, still under discussion by the board late Tuesday, came after a June 3 proposal to institute a moratorium on new water hookups was set aside.
Speaker John Swift raised concerns that requiring new developments, particularly on the smaller side, to pay as much as a $55,000 per acre feet water usage offset fee to go toward water conservation efforts could cause a “chilling effect” on new developments that could not afford the additional cost.
“You ought to look at the economic impact before you make a decision,” Swift said.
District staff said it would speak with Swift to determine what that financial chilling point might be, while board members said an alternative might be going back to the moratorium idea.
Upcoming changes for water district customers include enacting residential water budgets by early 2015 and emergency rate increases of 16 percent, in effect July 1, to cover revenue losses from reduced water sales.
Water conservation concerns are heightened for the district because its currently obtains water from an underground basin, from which district customers are using more annually than is naturally replaced through waterfall. If water use is not reduced, the district’s drinking wells are at risk of seawater contamination, according to officials. The district is also in the midst of researching alternative water supply sources, and has taken recent conservation steps as a stop-gap measure.”
Read more: Santa Cruz Sentinel