Amid rain, Santa Cruz facing water shortage
Despite a barrage of powerful storms throughout Northern California that brought 6.5 inches of rain and flood warnings to Santa Cruz in the past 10 days, the city ended up with a water shortage.
When a major reservoir pipeline split during a deluge in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Monday morning, city officials found themselves urging residents to conserve water this week. The irony is that the U.S. Drought Monitor has since declared the drought over in the coastal city and most of Northern California.
The city of Santa Cruz declared a local emergency Wednesday as officials rushed to repair the pipeline in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, along with city infrastructure damaged by the inclement weather.
By Thursday, the Water Department was testing a second repair on the ruptured 24.5-inch diameter pipe.
“We ask that everyone continue their efforts until it’s all clear,” said Eileen Cross, a spokeswoman for the Water Department.
The Santa Cruz Water Department asked its 96,000 customers to reduce water use by 30 percent as city production couldn’t keep up with demand.
The city tapped into storage tanks and imported water from the Soquel Creek Water District to fill the gap, according to Deputy City Manager Scott Collins.
“At this point, we’re still operating off of our storage,” Collins said Thursday morning. “We’re hopeful this fix will hold.”
Although Santa Cruz receives 95 percent of its water from surface runoff, when there’s storm activity, water from rivers and streams is too dirtied from debris and sediment to treat. Instead, Cross said, officials rely nearly exclusively on water from the city’s reservoir when storms hit.
But one of the reservoir’s main pipelines, buried 10 to 12 feet in soil prone to slides and erosion in the Santa Cruz Mountains, split at a joint. Cross suspects the pipe gave way under pressure from the movement of saturated soil, she said.
After pipeline repair attempts were unsuccessful Tuesday, the city continued to urge water conservation in the form of shorter showers, postponing laundry, using paper plates, limiting toilet flushing and curtailing water use in other simple household tasks.
The second repair Wednesday appeared to be holding, but the department will need another day to continue tests as workers gradually increase water pressure in the newly welded pipe.
Cross said she was “cautiously optimistic” the second repair will hold, noting the paradox of a storm causing a water shortage.