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Pursuit of Desal Driving Santa Cruz Water Costs. Voters to Weigh In Nov. 6
by Paul Gratz
Wednesday Oct 24th, 2012 10:14 PM
Santa Cruz - Overlooked by local newspapers and area media outlets, USA TODAY last month published a unique study of residential water rates over the past 12 years for water agencies nationwide with immediate implications for Santa Cruz. The investigative report found that monthly costs at least doubled for nearly a third of the one hundred localities, including Santa Cruz where rates haven not yet peaked, largely because of the current estimated $300M cost to build a proposed regional desal plant and its infrastructure.

Pursuit of Desal Driving Santa Cruz Water Costs. Voters to Weigh In Nov. 6

Santa Cruz - Overlooked by local newspapers and area media outlets, USA TODAY last month published a unique study of residential water rates over the past 12 years for water agencies nationwide with immediate implications for Santa Cruz .

The investigative report found that monthly costs at least doubled for nearly a third of the one hundred localities, including Santa Cruz where rates haven not yet peaked, largely because of the current estimated $300M cost to build a proposed regional desal plant and its infrastructure. In 2005, the City estimated the likely cost of the project at $30-$40M.

Among the ten California water agencies surveyed, Santa Cruz ranked third (113%) in increases, behind only the metropolitan San Francisco (211%) and San Diego (141%) water districts. Overall, average residential water rates nationally have risen 33% since 2000. The extensive USA TODAY survey was conducted by Raftelis Financial, the water management consulting arm of Black & Veatch.

During this same period, water consumption in Santa Cruz declined sharply by 30% amid conservation efforts coupled with reduced demand from a declining manufacturing sector. Paradoxically, the City has raised water rates four times and the trend toward higher bills continues -- driven primarily by the City’s decision to pursue seawater desalination, which is strongly supported by the business and political establishment.

The City has encountered severe financial difficulties since 2006, requiring ongoing layoffs and furloughs in order to shave millions from the budget. Yet in 2008, Water Department head Bill Kocher received a 19% salary raise to $192,912. Kocher is a vocal advocate for building an expandable 2.5-4.5 million gallons per day desalination plant on the City’s west side near the growing UCSC campus.

In February of this year, Piret Harmon, Financial Manager at the Santa Cruz Water Department, reported that, “long term trends reveal that an increase in operating expenditure levels outpaces the growth in operating revenue. And in the next 5-7 year time period we will no longer be able to set aside additional funds for capital improvements. As discussed in previous years, it is extremely difficult to accurately forecast yearly cash flow needs for large capital projects due to factors such as lengthy environmental review processes or being short staffed for large number of projects.”

Undoubtedly, the cash-strapped City is at important turning point in determining its water future -- where on November 6 voters will decide on a contentious Charter Amendment -- Ballot Measure P “The Right to Vote on Desal.”

Drafted by desalination opponents and skeptics, the measure if passed would require the City to obtain voter approval before authorizing the construction and funding of a desalination system. Currently, not a single US city requires voter approval for legislating seawater desalination planning, construction, and indebtedness. Therefore, passage of the Santa Cruz measure likely would have far reaching implications for desalination throughout California . (http://www.votescount.com/nov12/meap.pdf and http://voteondesalsc.org/text-of-measure-p/charter-amendment-vs-ordinance/)

Moreover, water policy and desalination are central issues in the City Council election, where eight candidates are vying for four positions. Among them are three well-financed pro-desalination candidates, including the incumbent mayor, a former three-term mayor, and a first-timer with strong political insider ties. (http://voteondesalsc.org/city-council-candidate-scorecard-on-water-issues/candidate-scorecard-on-water-issues/)

Related
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2012/09/27/rising-water-rates/1595651/
http://www.usatoday.com/videos/money/personalfinance/2012/09/28/1599729/
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/McCoy
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/economy/story/2012-09-27/water-rates-rising/57849626/1?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&dlvrit=206567
http://www.kqed.org/assets/pdf/news/2006_water.pdf
http://Desalalternatives.org
http://voteondesalsc.org/
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/desal
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/opinion/ci_21814516
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/letters/ci_21840981


Contact: Paul Gratz
831.419.6441, pauljg45 [at] pacbell.net
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by Paul Gratz Wednesday Oct 24th, 2012 10:14 PM

§T-Minus Desal
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