Soquel Creek Water District: Three incumbents intent on Pure Water Soquel project vs. two newcomers calling for change

Soquel Creek Water District’s election has five candidates battling for three seats and comes at a pivotal time, just as the ambitious, $145 million Pure Water Soquel project takes shape. The project puts 8 miles of pipes from Santa Cruz to Capitola and has disrupted traffic throughout the area for months. The incumbents want to see the project to its end in 2023; the newcomers insist water costs and district salaries are too high. Lookout asked the five candidates for statements. Read the four responses we got here.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

The Lookout logo on top of an American flag

Community Voices Election 2022

Community Voices is bringing you the direct voices of the candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot, those who want to represent you. We will also bring you the voices of those supporting and opposing local ballot initiatives.

It’s one of the most fundamental parts of Lookout’s role in democracy, and one we all prize more deeply as we witness the widening assaults on democracy across the country and the world.

We believe this will help you stay informed and make important choices about who you want to represent you and what issues matter to our community. Our Election 2022 page brings together all of Lookout’s current coverage.

We have done our best to be rigorously fair and to contact everyone running and give them an opportunity to present their views. If candidates are not in our pages, it is because they chose not to respond to our requests.

Other pieces of our coverage include our candidate forums, our letters to the editor and, in coming weeks, our endorsements. You can sign up to receive election news via text and text us your question here, and email us questions at

Stay tuned. We have lots of election action ahead.

We look forward to your participation.

The Soquel Creek Water District (SCWD) is in the middle of implementing the $145 million, 8-mile-long Pure Water Soquel project, an enormous undertaking designed to treat wastewater and pump it back underground as a safeguard against seawater intrusion and a way to raise groundwater levels after decades of drought and overuse. It’s also environmentally sound practice; it keeps treated wastewater from being pumped into Monterey Bay.

In planning since 2014, the project began in earnest in 2018, when the water board signed off on an environmental impact report. The project requires 8 miles of pipes, which run through Santa Cruz, Live Oak and Capitola.

The plans — with a hopeful completion date of the end of 2023 — include both a purification plant and an education center on Chanticleer Avenue. When completed, the plant is expected to process 1.3 million gallons of treated wastewater, with capacity to handle 2.6 million gallons a day. That’s about 32% of the 8 million gallons currently processed daily by the Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility.

With three seats up for grabs, three of the candidates — Carla Christensen, Bruce Jaffe and Rachél Lather — are incumbents who have served for decades and support each others’ election. They insist now is not a time for change. The other two — Corrie Kates and Kris Kirby — insist water costs and water district salaries are too high. They are calling for change.

The district runs from Capitola to La Selva Beach and is an example of city, county and water agency collaboration and cooperation.

Lookout asked each candidate to provide statements. Kates is the only one who did not respond.

Carla Christensen

I am a retired environmental biologist whose professional interest has been the health of aquatic ecosystems and the safety of our environment, including our drinking water. When I joined the board of directors of the Soquel Creek Water District in 2014, I was ready to work with my colleagues to address the serious and immediate threat to our drinking water, sea water contamination of our production wells.

This threat, due to overpumping our aquifer, was first evident as early as 1980. We reviewed several approaches to solving our overdraft problem. Ultimately, we focused on a project that could adequately address our deficit and also aligned with our customers’ values. The Pure Water Soquel project, once completed, will reclaim a portion of the 8 million gallons per day of the wastewater treated at Neary Lagoon and currently discharged into the ocean.

I’m proud to have contributed to this project. It is an important step to assure that everyone in our community has a safe, drought-resilient and sustainable source of potable water for years to come. The technology behind this project is not new — Los Angeles pioneered the effort — and communities as diverse as Las Vegas, Arizona and cities on the East Coast and Texas are relying on this approach to supplement their water supplies.

State and federal governments recognized our approach’s wisdom and prescience and consider our board’s process a model for other communities, especially along the Central Coast, which have endangered water supplies.

The state Water Resources Control Board, the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded us enough grants and very-low-interest loans to finance 100% of the project. We will be able to keep rates under control.

I thank the customers of our district, who through their strong conservation efforts have given us time to work. The combination of a strongly scientific-minded and financially aware board and staff have brought us our first chance at water sustainability in many decades. We must continue to work hard to complete this task, as affordably as possible.

This is not the time to change horses in midstream, just at the time when we are on the verge of obtaining the first new source of pure clean water in Santa Cruz County in 50 years and averting a threat that has been looming for decades.

Bruce Jaffe

Water is essential for life, for our environment, and for our economy.

As a director on the Soquel Creek Water Board for the past 19 years, I have done everything I can to protect our water and to ensure we have safe, clean drinking water for generations to come. We have a water deficit now because of pumping more water than was replenished in the 1980s and 1990s. Even with our customers conserving water, groundwater levels are tens of feet below sea level near the coast and seawater intrusion has already started to pollute our groundwater basins with salt, making the water undrinkable.

With climate change and the frequency and severity of droughts increasing, we need to help Mother Nature, who will not provide enough rain to bring the groundwater levels above sea level to halt seawater intrusion. We need a new supply of water — and that is not cheap.

But the cost of letting seawater pollute our groundwater basins, which would change our lives and cripple our economy, is $1 billion or more.

When I first ran for director, the water district did not know that it was overpumping more water than rainfall could replenish. I have helped define how much our water deficit is, so we can focus on conservation measures and alternative supplies such as water transfers and a recycling/purification that can deliver that amount of water yearly. Difficult problems take time and collaboration with other local water agencies is needed.

I worked hard to form a regional groundwater management agency and was the first chair. The district’s seawater intrusion prevention program that will raise groundwater levels to keep seawater in the bay, where it belongs, will help adjacent water agencies and has received state and federal grants totaling more than $93 million. These grants and extremely low-interest, long-term loans will decrease costs to our customers. As your director, I have also decreased deadly contaminants such as arsenic and chromium-6 beyond the state minimum requirements.

I will use my technical expertise to develop new and creative approaches. I have a Ph.D. in geology from UC Santa Cruz, am a father of two and have lived in our community for 41 years. I am knowledgeable about how water issues impact residents, businesses, the economy and the environment

Kris Kirby

My name is Kris Kirby and I’m running for the Soquel Creek Water District board. I’ve lived in Aptos for 25 years and remember when our water bills for six people were $60 every two months. Now it’s approximately $300 per month for four people. I’m the mother of four grown sons and have owned my small sign business locally for 21 years. I’m not afraid to speak up.

I think all incumbents need to be replaced. You’ve had your turn, now let some new people with new thoughts get involved. They still don’t meet in person. Before COVID-19, they lessened the meeting talk time for ratepayers from three to two minutes; they do not want to hear from ratepayers. Soquel Creek Water District is a municipality, not a big corporate company, and it needs to listen to their ratepayers. The district office is still not open to the public. People are not happy with how their water tastes; many don’t even drink it.

I want to find other ways than injecting recycled waste water into our pristine aquifer. We need water storage and containment instead of letting the rain water run straight to the ocean. I want to bring common sense and financial accountability/clarity back to the district.

I’m running for the board position because the rates are not sustainable for most people. I feel horrible for people on fixed incomes who can no longer take a daily shower in fear of how high their water bill will be. That needs to change.

The district is raising our rates another 9% in January. That’s over 45% in five years. It is currently giving top management who make over $200,000 a year monthly bonuses. That needs to change.

The district owns 200 acres on Glenwood Drive that could easily be storing water for us to use, and it talks about selling it. That should be investigated as an answer to our water needs.

Change is a good thing, and it’s time for this board to welcome new ideas.

Rachél Lather

I have been a civil engineer for 38 years with over 25 years of experience in the water and wastewater field. I have both a bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering with an emphasis on geotechnical. Early in my career, I worked on developing wells, on surface water and groundwater engineering studies and on the design of dams. Over the past 28 years, I have worked for agencies such as the County of Santa Cruz and Carmel Area Wastewater District as a water/wastewater engineering manager.

All of this education and experience gives me insights into the design and construction of water projects, pursuing grant opportunities, budgeting and rate-setting for the water industry that no other candidate has.

The most important issue facing Soquel Creek Water District is the threat to our water supply from overpumping resulting in seawater intrusion. Groundwater along our coastline has been found to be contaminated by seawater and we need to act fast to prevent further damage.

Conservation measures have had a remarkable effect on reducing the amount of water we pump but it is not enough to make sure groundwater levels are high enough to prevent seawater from advancing further toward our wells. We’ve been in a drought for many years, which has reduced the amount of water that will naturally increase groundwater levels. At this point, future rain events will not be enough to increase groundwater levels to prevent seawater intrusion and we cannot rely on a water source that is dependent on rain events.

That is why the SCWD board voted to construct the Pure Water Soquel project.

The Pure Water Soquel project will produce purified recycled water that can be used to recharge our groundwater table. This is done by placing purified recycled water into the groundwater at critical locations to create a barrier that prevents seawater from contaminating our groundwater. In addition, by using recycled water we are utilizing a resource that will be available even during extended drought periods. The PWS project construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2023 and I want to be on the board when that happens.

More from Community Voices