Santa Cruz's controversial plan to build a $100 million plant to turn saltwater into drinking water will be voted on Nov. 6, after opponents of the project got more than 8,800 people to sign petitions asking for a vote.
The November vote is actually a vote on whether to have a future vote to approve work on the project. If it passes, it will be the first time in the U.S. that such a proposal has been voted on, according to opponent Paul Gratz, who spent much of the spring handing out petitions at gatherings and outside Shoppers Corner supermarket.
Opponents claim the city is cash-strapped and can better provide water by using more drastic conservation measures and possibly building reservoirs in old quarries.
Proponents say that the water table in areas around Soquel and Capitola are already near botom and in danger of filling with undrinkable salt water. They add that people are already doing all they can to conserve water and the area needs a diversity of water sources to stave off problems from a drought.
The proposal would affect 135,000 people in all three cities because it would be built by Santa Cruz and Soquel water districts.
"Without a back-up strategy in place, elected officials are putting us all in jeopardy," said Gratz in a press release. "Their narrow-minded 'desal at any price' approach is a stomach punch to the environment, public safety, and the pocketbooks of voters and water ratepayers.”
Santa Cruz Water Director Bill Kocher argues that the city has already been penalized by the failure of past generations to set aside enough reservoirs for drinking water and the expanded population. He said he fears that waiting longer to take an enterprising move like desalting seawater will compound the problem in the future.
"The problem is if we wait until it's too late," said Kocher. "It's like the oil light in your car and the oil light is on."