Santa Cruzans drink up water source solutions

Santa Cruz Sentinel
October 16, 2014

Even ideas are being conserved as Santa Cruz continues its hunt for alternative water supply solutions.

Dozens turned out to the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium Thursday to browse through more than 45 different public projects geared toward increasing the city's available water supply. Ideas, presented science-fair style with poster boards, charts and projection screens, ran the gamut from low-cost public composting toilets to reviving the Zayante Dam project, with an estimated price tag of $52.8 million to $155 million.

Jerry Paul, a "retired strategy guy from Silicon Valley" and engineer, came up with his own 45 water supply ideas, consolidating them into one multipanel presentation. Even before the call for public ideas, Paul was putting together his own plans and presenting them at various local water agency meetings for years, he said.

"I got hooked," Paul said of his motivation.

Paul's various strategies look for partnerships between districts and asks 'why not' and 'what does it take' to any project objections.

Thursday's "Our Water, Our Future!" event invited the public to assess project proposals such as Paul's on their effectiveness, practicability, environmental benefits and local economic benefits.

Business owners, residents and even city staff were asked to showcase their ideas to reduce demand, increase supply and make better use of existing supply with city operational changes.

"I don't know that anybody has done anything like this before," said Water Director Rosemary Menard, asked if other city efforts have utilized this format. "What we really wanted to do was give people who have various ideas, we wanted to give kind of a level playing field."

As they left, attendees were invited to speak with organizers for a more in-depth "exit interview" on how and why they assessed the projects. They and others also will be able to go online to to weigh in.

"I came here because I'm extraordinarily interested in the water supply here in Santa Cruz," said D.J. Timpany of Santa Cruz. "I think there are so many ideas that can help us have a secure water system and it won't involve the tremendous energy output and environmental issues, possibly, that desalination is likely to have."

The so-called ideas convention was hosted by the city's 14-member Water Supply Advisory Committee. The public forum is part of the city's water supply seeking efforts in the wake of the August 2013 "reset" on years of seawater desalination project efforts.

"One of the concerns about the desalination issue was there hasn't been enough community engagement to see what the options are, to interact with the people who came up with ideas," said Menard, adding that Thursday's event helps address those concerns.

In coming weeks, city staff will take the public input back to the Water Supply Advisory Committee to comb through. Combining public opinion with their own assessments, the committee will begin to dig into the technical details of the various ideas, she said.

"Next, it's starting to really begin to pull stuff forward as to what the perspective is. It's necessary to have a substantive conversation," Menard said of the committee's role.

Water supply proposals are due back to the Santa Cruz City Council by May, a "pretty aggressive schedule," said Menard.