Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#311 / Got Fish?

This morning, the Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, is meeting at the Santa Cruz County Governmental Center. The Commission is ultimately going to decide whether or not the City of Santa Cruz will be given permission to extend water service to the UCSC North Campus, located outside the City's current water service area. 

If LAFCO says "yes," and allows the extension of water service that both the City and UCSC are seeking, the effect will be to allow the University to construct over 3,000,000 square feet of new buildings in what is now a campus nature reserve, and a kind of "open air classroom" used by faculty and students in the University's Environmental Studies Department.  Previously, the Commission had indicated that the decision on the City and University applications was going to be made today, but the Commission is now saying that the decision will be made on December 5th.

UCSC students have become very involved in the LAFCO process. Last Sunday, a graduating senior wrote an affecting "Op-Ed" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, in which she urged the Commission to adhere to its current water policies. These policies say that the Commission will not allow a water agency to extend water service outside its existing water service area unless LAFCO can find that there is an "adequate, reliable, and sustainable" water supply. 

In this case, the City clearly does not have an "adequate," or "reliable," or "sustainable" water supply. Water use restrictions are routinely in effect during minor droughts, and the City warns that a major drought would be catastrophic. The City, in fact, is planning to build a $140 million dollar desalination plant (though there is no guarantee that permitting agencies, or even the residents of the City, who get to vote on it, will ever approve this plan). Further, the State Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service have both warned the City that their current use of surface water is a violation of both the State and Federal Endangered Species Acts. The City has to cut back significantly on the water it is currently taking out of the San Lorenzo River and North Coast streams, further crimping the City's current water supply. 

In these circumstances, when a future water supply for both endangered fish and existing water customers is imperiled, it's hard to see exactly how the Commission could actually determine that the City has an "adequate, reliable, and sustainable" water supply. This is the point made by the UCSC students undertaking the mural project pictured above. Got fish? Not for long, if LAFCO allows the City to make even more demands on the City's already over-stressed water resources, to facilitate the kind of growth that the UC Administration is hoping to undertake. 

Kimberly Schneider, that graduating senior, puts it quite eloquently in her Sunday "Op-Ed":

I am very grateful to LAFCO for having adopted this "sustainability" policy. Here is what the word "sustainable" means to me:

"Sustainable" means that I can have a future.

I have studied water policy at UCSC. There is really no debate that all over the world, including right here, we are overstressing water supplies, putting future generations in jeopardy. Our current water diversions from the San Lorenzo River already jeopardize the habitat of threatened and endangered fish populations. The construction of an unpopular desalination plant could very well be turned down by voters in the coming years, so we currently do not have an "adequate, reliable or sustainable" source of water in Santa Cruz.

The supply of water on this planet is finite and has been treated too much like a commodity over the past century. If this mindset continues, what does the future hold for my generation? Without a commitment to genuine sustainability, my generation will face over-pumped groundwater aquifers, dried-up streambeds and rivers, and the irreversible loss of our redwood forests. As far as I am concerned, I and my children are the future generation that the LAFCO policies are intended to protect.

I will be attending the LAFCO hearing on Dec. 5. I will be sitting in the audience hoping that the LAFCO commissioners do the right thing, and follow their adopted water policies. The decisions our officials make today affect the livelihood of my generation, and I implore those who are making these decisions to take this into account.

Got fish? It is going to be up to LAFCO to decide.

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