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Drought Demands New Water Policy in Santa Cruz
Water Supply Security Needs More that Baseline Options
Everyone knows that California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history. And while we in Santa Cruz may be enjoying another day in Paradise, our city has not otherwise escaped the straightjacket of the ongoing water shortage. Because of this heightened awareness about the questionable future of our water supply, the word conservation is on the minds of every resident and on the lips of every elected official and city staffer. But what, precisely, do we mean when we consider conservation measures as a viable approach to water sustainability? Civic leaders have suggested simply using less water and have created very modest programs to make low flow toilets and fixtures available to residents. Conservationists recommend the policies of water transfer and water neutral development. But these are not realistic “endgame” solutions. Indeed, what has been advocated thus far has, in my view, established only a baseline policy and assiduously avoids asking the difficult questions that may actually lead to water supply security. So let’s consider a couple.
We should be asking why a policy or program has not been developed that would offer financial incentives to every homeowner willing to install grey water re-catchment or “laundry to landscape” systems that could easily and safely reuse existing household water. We should be asking why a similar policy has not been developed that would offer incentives to every homeowner who would be willing and able to install rainwater catchment systems large enough to make the effort worthwhile. The city program which offers 65 gallon barrels to residential water users doesn't even qualify as a “baseline” program. Rather, we should be looking at inexpensive and space practical catchment barrels of 250 gallons or more that could have a significant impact on potable water use in the near term.
And here's a question that hasn't been asked much less answered as we assess our community's future water supply: Why hasn’t the City of Santa Cruz, which has such a well established and reasonably well implemented Storm Water Management System, invested at least some time and energy into thoroughly investigating the creation of a Storm Water Recapture and Reuse System? Is even one drop of the storm water that washes into our sewers and drains recaptured for any use? That's a question every resident of Santa Cruz should be asking; and they should be asking it to their elected officials and their Water Department today and every day until they get a satisfactory answer.
The future sustainability of our water supply is perhaps the single most challenging issue that faces our community today. Tomorrow may bring new thoughts and new beginnings and we can look with great hope to waste water recycling which may be as few as five years away and would create many millions of gallons of new, potable water. But for today, we need to ask the important questions in order to meaningfully push the “baseline” of water security models past the present limited thinking. On an issue of this importance, our reach must surely exceed our grasp.