Loch Lomond depth markers
Loch Lomond is the city’s only drinking water reservoir and, when full, can hold about one year’s worth of water. Additional water supply options, including storage, are necessary in the face of climate change.
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Water supply projects will help Santa Cruz during dry years

The need for a supplemental water supply in Santa Cruz during dry years has only grown with the increased impacts of climate change. The citizen-led Water Supply Advisory Committee studied and recommended water supply projects that are being implemented now.

Drought has threatened Santa Cruz’s water supply many times over the last half-century and the effects of climate change mean water supply issues will continue to plague the community.

Why is the area so vulnerable during drought? Santa Cruz gets 95% of its water supply from local flowing sources like the San Lorenzo River and north coast creeks. The other 5% comes from local groundwater, all from local rainfall. Santa Cruz doesn’t import any water from the State Water Project or the Sierra.

Santa Cruz Water Supply Advisory Commission members approving their final recommendations in fall 2015.

The first and worst water shortage in modern Santa Cruz history was in 1976-77, and was a big wake-up call for the community. While water shortages weren’t rare, none had been seen at that level. Water was rationed and fines were imposed for the first time in the city’s history. It was clear that the city needed more water, and planning for new supply began in earnest.

Since that time, many supply ideas and plans have been deemed unacceptable by some in the community. Examples of prior supply projects that were considered and dismissed include a proposal for a new reservoir on Zayante Creek and a desalination plant.

Over the years, the need for supplemental supply during dry years has only grown with the increased impacts of climate change.

In the most recent effort to find an ideal supply project — one that can produce enough water, have acceptable environmental impacts, be affordable, and supported by the broad community — the City established a citizen-led Water Supply Advisory Committee (WSAC) in 2014.

The Santa Cruz Water Supply Advisory Commission
The Santa Cruz Water Supply Advisory Commission reviewed more than 100 water supply ideas submitted by the community before making recommendations to the City Council.

The WSAC was made up of representatives from throughout the community: environmental, scientific, development, business and education. Their charge was to look at the current state of the water system and forecasted needs, and to come up with recommendations to augment the City’s supply that was agreeable to all community interests. After an 18-month very deep dive into the workings of the City’s water system — and reviewing more than 100 ideas that were submitted by the community — the WSAC came up with recommendations that were unanimously supported by City Council:

  • increase water conservation
  • share supplies regionally
  • bank excess winter water in local depleted aquifers
  • use purified recycled water to replenish aquifers
  • desalination

For the past six years, the Water Department has concurrently studied and tested the feasibility of all of the recommendations and is now ready to begin implementing supply projects. An implementation plan will go the Council for review and approval in 2022.

Climate change is a real threat to the city’s water supply. Thanks to the WSAC, Santa Cruz has a plan to augment its supply. Continued community support for their important work is critical to ensure the City stays on track to bring that plan to life over the next few years.