A Water Supply for The Future

What’s being done about Santa Cruz’s water supply situation? A lot, as it turns out.

Content sponsored by the Santa Cruz Water Supply Advisory Committee and the Santa Cruz Water Department

Sept. 3, 2015—The Santa Cruz community has long faced challenges with the reliability of its water supply. Many solutions have been looked at over the past four decades. In October 2013, the City Council decided to take a different approach to solving Santa Cruz’s water woes than we had in the past. A committee of residents representing diverse perspectives was appointed to take an exhaustive look at our water issues and ways we can address them. Thus, the Water Supply Advisory Committee was born.

The WSAC operates independently and employs a technical support team and an Independent Review Panel. The committee is funded by the City of Santa Cruz and assisted by Water Department staff. The WSAC has its own charter, is fully transparent and operates under California’s open public meeting laws. There are 14 committee members, representing local interests including the environment, business, education and the City’s Water Commission.

Learn about the Sept. 9 Water Supply Showcase

WSAC members undertook a robust education about the SCWD water system and have a thorough understanding of the challenges it faces. The WSAC also has the support of a diverse professional technical team with expertise in engineering, hydrogeology, demand forecasting, supply modeling and demand management.

The WSAC has identified three fundamental challenges to Santa Cruz’s water supply.

1. Lack of Storage: 95% of Santa Cruz’s water supply comes from local rivers and streams. When water levels are low, such as in drought years, we depend on stored water. Loch Lomond Reservoir, our only storage for untreated water, holds 2.8 billion gallons of water – less than one year’s worth of water. Lack of adequate storage makes us very vulnerable to shortages in dry years.

2. Climate Change: It is likely that climate change will have some impact on the Central Coast in the coming years. Potential impacts might include less frequent, but more severe, storms or more frequent and more extended periods of drought. Climate change must be factored into supply planning.

3. Enough Water for Fish: Water taken from rivers and streams threatens the survival of native fish species like coho salmon and steelhead trout. Our community is deeply committed to environmental sustainability, even if it means going beyond the minimum legal requirements to reduce our impacts.

The WSAC also learned:
• Though there is excess water available during most winter storms, finding a place to store it isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
• Some ideas that seem simple and obvious have major flaws technically, geologically, legally or financially. (Example: storing water in abandoned quarries)
• Some ideas that do work technically, geologically, legally or financially raise community concerns for other reasons. (Example: recycled water)

To engage the community and solicit ideas, the Santa Cruz Water Supply Convention was held Oct. 16, 2014. The “science fair-style” event provided community members and city staff an opportunity to present strategies to increase our water supply. More than 80 ideas were submitted and 50 proposals were presented to attendees.

Some of the ideas included:
• Capture humidity in the air and turn it into drinking water
• Reduce demand by changing landscapes
• Collect and reuse rainwater and greywater
• Design water rates to promote conservation
• Change building and plumbing codes to improve water efficiency
• Purify and reuse wastewater
• Pursue new technologies for desalinating sea water

The WSAC has determined that in all scenarios, conservation will continue to play an important role in helping us manage our water resources. However, the WSAC has also learned that conservation alone will not fill the supply gap in dry and critically dry years.

WSAC members were appointed by the City Council to produce a set of recommendations for solving the City’s water supply challenges. Their recommendations will be presented to the City Council this fall.

To preview the final suite of strategies to be presented to the City Council, the WSAC and the Water Department are hosting the Water Supply Showcase on Sept. 9 at Louden Nelson Auditorium, 301 Center St. in Santa Cruz. Attendees can talk with WSAC members about what they’ve learned and how they think Santa Cruz should address its supply shortages.

Following the Supply Showcase event, there will be a Water Supply Advisory Committee meeting on Sept. 10 and 11. Learn more about the committee at

THE WATER SUPPLY SHOWCASE is Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 5pm at Louden Nelson Center, 301 Center St, Santa Cruz.


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