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Dousing for Dollars

[whitespace] Plumbing Solutions

By Rachel Ann Goodman

Countywide, water agencies confront different system demands and a variety of technical challenges to try to supply their customers. But just about all of them are water-poor and looking for new ways to meet growing demand. Here are just a few examples:

A Salty Solution
At the top of the list for some county water districts, notably Santa Cruz, is desalination. A plant would cost $18 million to $27 million, cost
$3 million a year to operate and produce 10 million gallons of water a day.

Charged Up
The Soquel Creek Water District has plans to experiment with injection wells, pumping water from a part of the Purisima sandstone aquifer that's not overdrawn, and putting it back in wells near Aptos that are in danger of saltwater intrusion. This year they will build a large transmission main to pipe water from the western to the central part of the district.

The district is also considering a controversial project that would divert stream water from Soquel Creek during rainy periods and store it in a reservoir. Some of that water would be put through a treatment plant and used for drinking, and some would be injected back into the aquifer. The stream diversion project would cost between $19 and $25 million.

Glass Half Empty
Just about all experts agree: Scotts Valley's district is overpumping its groundwater. In some places groundwater levels have dropped 150 feet. Recent discoveries of MTBE, a carcinogenic gasoline additive, and benzene have caused a crisis for water customers.

Users of the Santa Margarita aquifer, which include Manana Woods, the Mt. Hermon and San Lorenzo Valley Water District and the Scotts Valley district, have formed an interagency group called the Santa Margarita Groundwater Basin Advisory Committee, which will try to find solutions to the overdraft problems.

One option is to find the remaining critical recharge areas for the aquifer and put percolation ponds or injection wells there. Treated wastewater could save Scotts Valley 350 acre-feet a year, about 15 percent of its current usage.

New Storage
In the '50s, seven reservoirs were planned for Santa Cruz County. Only Loch Lomond was built. The only surviving proposal is to fill the Olympia quarry off Mt. Hermon road with water after it is mined out.

That, too, has problems, according to Bruce LeClergue, the county's new water resources manager. "The mining could change groundwater flow. It's in close proximity to Zayante and Bean creeks, so you could be reducing the groundwater contribution to stream flow. There's also concern about the proximity of the location to San Lorenzo Valley's well field at Olympia. It's a highly charged issue in the public's eye."

The Scotts Valley Water District has spent $5 million on a treatment plant which yields a million gallons of nonpotable water a day. The only problem is a lack of customers.

County water commissioner Betty Peterson wants the city to force the biggest water user, the Kaiser Sand Quarry, to use recycled water.

"We want the City Council to put a temporary moratorium on development until recycled water use has been initiated and they can see a significant increase in groundwater levels," Peterson says.

Positive Signs
There are signs on the horizon of cooperation among districts. Santa Cruz and the Soquel Creek Water District are planning to build a connection between their systems to share water and may even collaborate on the desalination project. The county recently approved funding for three positions to coordinate countywide water management and supply issues.

Says Bill Kocher, head of the Santa Cruz Water District: "I feel most of the boards have a good understanding of the vulnerability of their water systems--that politically, economically, they can't go it alone."

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From the September 15-22, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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