Santa Cruz Sentinel

Water system must adapt to climate change

- By Rosemary Menard Rosemary Menard is the director of the Santa Cruz Water Department, which serves nearly 100,000 residents and businesses in the City of Santa Cruz and Live Oak, as well as portions of Capitola and Highway 1 areas north of Santa Cruz.

Texas and other areas of the U.S. are dealing with the impacts of a storm that tragically resulted in lost lives and damage to critical infrastruc­ture. Headlines have focused primarily on the power grid. But the disaster also extends to water systems that were knocked offline and has caused residents to have to boil their water in order to drink it.

Even though we’re just days out from the historic storm, there is already growing agreement on a couple of key points: climate change played a big role and policy makers were advised years ago to harden critical power and water infrastruc­ture to better withstand extreme weather events.

Santa Cruz residents understand the link between climate change and droughts and wildfires. Less rain means drier conditions, and drier conditions drive wildfires – a situation that seems to get worse each year. It’s also easy to see how drought and wildfire impact water supply in Santa Cruz, where we rely completely on local rainfall for our drinking water supply.

But there’s another problem with climate change that seriously impacts our local water system: too much rain. How so? Because our water system was built for the more predictabl­e, “normal” rainfall patterns of the last century. It wasn’t designed for extreme weather that climate change causes.

Our system is unable to treat the muddy, debris-filled water that comes with extreme rain events. Extreme rainfall also causes flooding and landslides, which break old, fragile pipelines.

Our new reality is that we no longer have “normal” weather patterns in Santa Cruz. Extreme weather is the new normal. Our water system simply wasn’t designed for today’s new normal.

The good news is that we have been preparing Santa Cruz’s water system to respond to the challenges of climate change. We’re replacing the oldest, most critical pipelines that have the greatest vulnerabil­ity to cracks and breaks. We’re replacing the pipeline, intake structures and valves at Loch Lomond Reservoir — where the vast majority of the city’s water is stored — to ensure we’re able to fill and release water as efficientl­y as possible.

We’re replacing outdated equipment at the Graham Hill water treatment plant to meet modern standards. We’re testing new ways to store water, like using undergroun­d space in depleted aquifers, which both increases our supply and replenishe­s the aquifer – an idea that was developed in part through the work of the city’s Water Supply Advisory Committee.

We’re revising the city’s century-old water rights so that we have more flexibilit­y in how we use and store water. We’re replacing broken and inefficien­t water meters with conservati­on-friendly meters that allow customers to monitor their water use online.

If we want to avoid California versions of the extreme weather situations such as that which occurred in Texas, we have a lot of work to do. The work that must be done is extensive and expensive and we have to do it now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, a collapsed local economy and growing indication­s of a multi-year drought. There’s no time to waste to ensure the safety and reliabilit­y of our drinking water.

Our new reality is that we no longer have “normal” weather patterns in Santa Cruz. Extreme weather is the new normal. Our water system simply wasn’t designed for today’s new normal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA