Saturday, July 2, 2022

#184 / Water And Growth (Santa Cruz Style)

California is experiencing an unprecedented drought. The water year that ended September 30, 2021, was the second driest on record, due to extreme heat and lack of rain and snow, and all fifty-eight counties in California are now under a drought emergency proclamation. That definitely includes Santa Cruz County, where I live. The image above comes from the City of Santa Cruz Water Department. The Water Department does seem to acknowledge that we face a potential crisis - especially if drought conditions continue. Those who take global warming seriously not only believe that continuing drought conditions are possible; they think continuing drought conditions are likely - and that continuing drought conditions will have dramatic effects!
A recent bulletin from the City of Santa Cruz Water Department seemed significant to me. Here is what this June 2022, bulletin said: 

One thing that hasn't changed since 2014 is the community average daily water use. We're still using about the same amount of water per cap per day as we were then (a little less, in fact, we're at 44 gpcd). This is both wonderful an startling. It's wonderful because it's a testament to our community's commitment to use water resources wisely. It's startling because when we have another significant drought, there is very little left to cut from our system with[out] affecting health, safety, and commerce. In fact, in a recent survey of our customers, 76% agreed with the statement, "I've already cut back water use in my home as much as I can; there's not much more I can do to save water." Simply put, unlike prior to the drought of 2014-2015, our customer[s] are already using water very conservatively - we won't be able to conserve our way out of the next significant drought (emphasis added).
Despite a couple of typos in the Water Department's bulletin, the message seems crystal clear. We are in potential trouble with respect to our long term water prospects. This is particularly true when we realize that, unlike many other communities, we have no "outside" source of water. Santa Cruz County is completely dependent on water supplies from within the county.

Given this, one might think that our local community should be circumspect about encouraging new growth, since new growth places increasing demands on a water supply that is limited, and that is already being used "very conservatively." Plans to increase our storage capacity, thus augmenting effective supply, are, at this point, just plans!
BUT.... the approach actually suggested by the City Water Department and the City Planning Department is anything but circumspect. They tell existing residents that there is "no problem" with the dramatic new growth proposed for the City. No problem with traffic impacts! No problem with parking impacts! No adverse impacts on existing neighborhoods, and NO WATER IMPACTS, EITHER!

If you are a resident of the City of Santa Cruz, and if you think that the Water Department's approach to water and growth is a problematic and probably short-sighted and erroneous approach, then you had better pay attention to upcoming Supervisorial and City elections. A majority of the current elected officials on the Santa Cruz City Council are blithely planning for new twenty-story buildings in an expanded downtown, and high-density developments along the City's major transportation corridors. That is true even as the state of California has made it possible to convert single family lots into lots with four homes, and as the University of California is planning for mammoth new growth, too. 

Will there be water for all that new growth? Not if drought conditions continue! Take it from the Water Department: 
We won't be able to conserve our way out of the next significant drought.
Image Credit:

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, though I seriously doubt that voting for local officials will make any difference, as there are no candidates for office that understand limits to growth from fluctuating water supplies, nor any other resource limits. This would require not only the knowledge of limitations to growth, but the willingness to steer an unpopular course for City and County future. Not to mention, of course, City and County STAFF with the same knowledge and willingness to buck current funding sources.


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