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Water, the Big Item for the City Council Tuesday

After spending $15 million on studying a desalination plant, the city of Santa Cruz is again opening discussion of what the future of water in the city will be.

The city spent the money along with the Soquel Water District hoping that a $120 million plant to remove salt from seawater in times of drought would help replenish drying wells in Soquel, Aptos and Capitola, as well as keep water levels in the San Lorenzo River high enough to keep fish spawning. 

It's as hot an issue as there is in Santa Cruz, where a strong group formed against desalination, claiming that the city can save all the water it needs through intense conservation. Members of the group also say that they think bringing in more water is being supported by the University of California which wants to expand its Santa Cruz campus.

Others, including former Mayor Mike Rotkin and current city councilman Cynthia Mathews, have argued that the city already conserves all that it can and its tourist industry would be imperiled by another drought.

Tuesday's council meeting will ask residents to consider a committee to study water issues and come up with some recommendations. 

According to a report by City Manager Martin Bernal, the committee will study: 

• The long-terms effects of state and federal mandated water releases for habitat conservation on municipal water supply. • Current and long-term water demand. • Water conservation potential. • Water supply alternatives such as water exchanges, operational changes and other infrastructure improvements, and incentivized conservation (rates, fixtures, appliances). • Risk assessment of water shortages (economic, social, municipal). • Regional collaboration model and best practices. • Examination of potential water supply projects with relation to energy use, marine impacts and neighborhood impacts.  

While Mayor Hilary Bryant and City Manager Martin Bernal have slowed the process toward the desalination plant, it is not off the table, they said. It is something that will be considered along with other alternatives.

Expect a packed, heated house at 7 p.m. Tuesday.


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