Guest Column Viewpoint Letter

In Santa Cruz County there are seven separate water agencies that serve our community, each with different sources of water, customer demographics and infrastructure ages. As a result, each agency has different needs and approaches to operations and, until recently, operated largely independently of each other. 

However, challenges posed by climate change, including persistent drought, flooding and wildfires, as well as new state mandates for managing groundwater resources, have prompted agencies to work more collaboratively in recent years.

We believe this new, more regional approach to using community water resources is a big plus for water customers, as it provides an opportunity to use our precious water resources more efficiently while producing more reliable supplies and resilient infrastructure.

One example is the collaboration between the City of Santa Cruz Water Department and San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) to study options for SLVWD to access water from Loch Lomond Reservoir. Loch Lomond primarily serves City of Santa Cruz water customers. However, SLVWD has a contractual right to about 100 million gallons of the reservoir’s water annually. 

Currently, SLVWD is pursuing a feasibility study to understand the best way to access and treat Loch Lomond water and supply it to its customers. Working together, SLVWD and the City will explore different ways the water can be conveyed from the reservoir to SLVWD for treatment, or, alternatively, how the City could provide SLVWD’s allocation as treated drinking water.

Both SLVWD and the City currently rely heavily on surface water for their drinking water supplies. However, groundwater provides about half of SLVWD’s supply, as well as critical summer baseflow to the San Lorenzo River and tributary creeks. 

As a changing climate leads to extended droughts, it is likely we will all need to rely more on groundwater in the future. SLVWD is working toward decreasing its impact on groundwater by utilizing surface water throughout its distribution system by providing excess winter flows to areas that historically used only well water.

SLVWD and the City are actively involved in a regional coalition working to ensure the sustainability of the Santa Margarita groundwater basin. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act passed in 2014 requires groundwater users in overdrafted basins statewide to develop plans for how their basins will be managed sustainably.

SLVWD and the City have worked with Scotts Valley Water District, City of Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz County, Mount Hermon Association and private well owners to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan to manage the Santa Margarita groundwater basin so that it remains a viable water source for generations to come. The plan was approved by the California Department of Water Resources in April 2023.

SLVWD and the City have long collaborated on efforts to protect water sources. These agencies recently completed a joint Watershed Sanitary Survey for 2023. Sanitary Surveys are required by the State Water Resources Control Board to ensure that drinking water agencies are complying with all state requirements to protect the watersheds of their source waters.

In the aftermath of the 2020 CZU Fire, the City and SLVWD expanded its collaboration on watershed protection to efforts in the area of fire prevention. The City also continues to welcome San Lorenzo Valley High School students to its immersive Watershed Academy and to sponsor watershed education programs for San Lorenzo Valley Elementary and Middle schools, provided by the Coastal Watershed Council.

Extreme weather events accelerated by climate change have hit Santa Cruz County hard during the past decade, as evidenced by multiple years of drought and seasons of extreme storms and atmospheric rivers. As we have experienced, local water supplies are particularly vulnerable to these extreme weather events. 

We are encouraged by the ways local water agencies are collaborating to address these impacts. These new and expanded partnerships open the door to shared innovation and funding opportunities and promote climate-proof drinking water supplies for future generations.

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Bruce McPherson is the Santa Cruz County Supervisor; Fred Keeley is the Santa Cruz Mayor; and Mark Smolley is the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Board Chair.


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