Santa Cruz water rationing, fees to continue into fall

Santa Cruz Sentinel
October 14, 2014

Local residents have cut their water use beyond city expectation in the face of exceptional drought conditions statewide, officials say.

Even those water conservation efforts, however, have proved no match for the ongoing three-year drought and the third-driest year in Santa Cruz history, Water Department authorities said during Tuesday's Santa Cruz City Council meeting.

"The San Lorenzo River today and for the entire month of October has never been lower at this time of year," said Toby Goddard, city administrative services manager.

Goddard and city Water Director Rosemary Menard went before the council to ask that the city extend its seven-month water rationing program on a month-to-month basis, even as the season turns to dark days and potentially increased rainfall. The water rationing and over-use fines were set to expire at the end of October.

"We really don't have any good basis for saying we're OK at this point," Goddard said.

The council unanimously approved the request.

City water officials will consider ending the rationing once flow increases in local streams, and about 12 inches of water have been collected in the watershed, among other conditions, Goddard said.

"I don't want to suggest 12 inches is some automatic number. We're going to look at it," Goddard said. "We don't want to be in a situation where we're kind of flicking the switch on and off. We understand that that's complicated and noisy and not a good thing to do."

Other than city Water Commission member Andy Schiffrin, no members of the public turned out for the water rationing discussion. Schiffrin commended the council for setting a goal on the horizon for when the rationing may end.

"For some, it's a hardship," Schiffrin said of the rationing. "It's changed a lot of behavior — inside and outside water behavior."

Earlier in the meeting, the council voted to increase its water conservation rebate program by $250,000, due to the overwhelming public interest in the program. In past years, the program thrived with a $150,000 budget, city officials said. This year, that budget was used in three months, they said.

In addition to encouraging water conservation and the rationing program, the city also is planning to take a hard look at its water rates. The council on Tuesday set aside $153,000 to begin conducting a fee and rate study, which will include rate-based incentives for conservation.

In other meeting actions, the council voted 4-2 to amend its existing city park and beach stay-away order ordinance. The proposed ordinance update, which will require a second reading before it is finalized, could mean that lawbreakers in city parks and beaches will be banned for up to a year from all city parks after receiving five citations in a year's time. Existing city law limits stay-away orders to 24 hours. Vice Mayor Don Lane and Councilman Micah Posner voted against the amendment and Mayor Lynn Robinson was absent.