Opponents of desalination plans by the city of Santa Cruz and the Soquel Creek Water District are an adamant bunch. They don't want a new water supply to be built -- no matter what data are presented to them.
It really doesn't have to do with water. The real issue here -- unstated, largely -- is growth. It has long been the way in certain quarters around Santa Cruz to unofficially cap growth by withholding services. Services like roads and water. By limiting services, the theory goes, fewer people will move to Santa Cruz.
Unfortunately, that theory by its very nature ensures that services won't be adequate. And those most knowledgeable about water tell the rest of us that customers of the Santa Cruz water district -- and that includes a large section of Live Oak and other areas outside the city -- could face severe shortages in the event of a future drought.
Now, federal officials are throwing in another issue -- fish conservation. J.M. Brown of the Sentinel explains it here.
The National Marine Fisheries unit of NOAA wants the city to increase the flow of the San Lorenzo River and four other streams. Those streams are in the same watersheds that feed the city's water supply.
Bottom line: the city needs a new water source. It needs it partly for its customers, and partly for the health of the streams. In fact, city water officials will tell you privately that the health of the San Lorenzo River would have been improved years ago had the city been permitted to build a new dam on the Zayante River. Having an additional dam would have meant better flows in the San Lorenzo.
Ah well. That proposal was dead and buried years ago. But desalination could be the only solution left to ensure that Santa Cruz is not left dry during some upcoming drought.
Western writer Wallace Stegner long ago said that lack of water defines the American West and will always be a defining issue. Water conservation is a great idea, but it can't be the only answer. No matter what the no-growthers have to say.