SANTA CRUZ – Santa Cruz residents may be asked to conserve water this summer after the city experienced its driest wet season in seven years.
“I wish I was coming to you with a lot of great news, but as you know it has been dry,” said Ben Pink, the environmental program analyst for the Santa Cruz Water Department.
The Santa Cruz Water Commission voted unanimously Monday evening to recommend the City Council enact Stage 1 of the city’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan. Therefore residents should be prepared for a possible 10% water usage reduction citywide, which totals around 136 million gallons.
Stage 1 will limit water usage in each household to 500 cubic feet of water per month, which is equivalent to 37.4 gallons. That measurement is for an assumed household of three people, according to Pink. Larger households will be able to apply for a larger water allotment online. The Water Commission expects to have that service available by May 1.
Even if water usage is rationed, the Water Commission isn’t concerned the allotment will be a problem due to a recent decrease in demand.
“When you look at the demand structure of our customers, those who have been conserving will probably not have a difficult time. Many people in our community are using less water than the allotment allows,” Water Director Rosemary Menard said. “We will be communicating to folks who are in that more marginal place as we go forward so they can have plenty of notice to begin to take steps.”
While the implementation of Stage 1 restricts the amount of water each household is allotted, penalties for exceeding the allotment aren’t implemented until Stage 2 of the contingency plan. Despite no penalty, Pink still urged residents to use within their allotment to create a better water outlook for 2022.
“Even though there is no excess use penalty at this time, we’re really asking people to adhere to those allotments because we know that the following year could be dry. Then the penalties will come into effect,” he said. “In a sense, it’s advisory now with a strong emphasis on sticking to those allotments because we’re all in this together in case the next year is dry.”
As of March, Santa Cruz has remained in the critically dry category for the 2021 water year. The city has only seen roughly 11,600 acre-feet of water runoff form the San Lorenzo River, which is significantly lower than a normal year.
In fact, the city is on par with the 2014 water year, which was the last time it fell within the critically dry category. Santa Cruz narrowly edged its way into the dry category last year.
“The end of March is typically when we evaluate the conditions and prepare the final water supply outlook for the peak season,” Pink said. “April is typically a transition month where you still might get some rain, but as of today there’s really no rain in the forecast. With this trend it is unlikely that we are going to cross over that threshold into…