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Weighing in on the desal debate, Doug Deitch of the Monterey Bay Conservancy and multiple runs for supervisor wonders why nobody mentions a 1987 well ordinance that could have been invoked to stop aquifer overdraft.

By Douglas Deitch

ON JAN. 6, 1987, then--Supervisor chairman Gary Patton signed into law the "County Well Ordinance." This law, one of many conceived and designed by Mr. Patton, was intended to protect our groundwater from contamination from a number of possible causes. In this ordinance, saltwater intrusion from basin overdraft was and still today is specifically noted and covered by this law.

Mr. Patton's law was carefully crafted by him as a part of our local coastal plan so, notwithstanding the promise of desalination or anything else, the natural limit of local water supplies could not legally be ignored by our supervisors. This was achieved by requiring that the Board of Supervisors immediately declare a groundwater emergency and take specific remedial measures in any county groundwater basin which is in overdraft and drawing water beyond that basin's sustainable yield.

Although quite possibly all county basins were actually in overdraft in 1987, the first comprehensive County Water Resources Report in 1998 officially established these overdraft conditions in all our local aquifers. In this report, saltwater intrusion resource loss in Soquel Creek's and PVWMA's shared basin, the Aromas Red Sands, was estimated to be 15,000 acre feet of loss per year. Water use was quantified at a massive yearly 200 percent or three times overdraft, around 90 percent used and exported in 25 percent of this country's berries. No remedial or any actions have ever been taken by our supervisors, as required by Mr. Patton's law.

To replace this amount of water loss would require construction and full time operation of around seven new $40 million to $100 million Santa Cruz desal plants. Put another way, Soquel Creek Water District is draining the equivalent of seven desal plants a year to saltwater intrusion, year in and year out for 20--30 years, at one end of their district, and they want to partner with SCMU to build one plant by 2015 at the other end to address this problem?

Does this seem like a "sustainable" solution? We will have lost the equivalent of another 42 Santa Cruz desal plants' water by then--and that's added on to the 84 plants's worth of water officially lost since 1998! We're talking billions of dollars of our irreplaceable water supply permanently gone, expropriated from our water commons in berry product by primarily transnational tenant agribusinesses like Driscolls, Dole, CalGiant and TriCal--the Bromide Barons--and yes, UC, too. That's why the late Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert, speaking here in 1998, described this same loss as "the worst in the world."

I have heard and read with much interest a number of Mr. Patton's recent letters and statements on the radio and in news articles in this paper last week and elsewhere relating to our water, the new desal plant, UCSC expansion, Atkinson Lane development in Watsonville and other local land use matters in the Greater Monterey Bay Region. Yet, since 1998, I have never one time heard one word from Mr. Patton mentioning his well rdinance and its requirement, crafted by him, that our Board of Supervisors declare a "groundwater emergency" and implement the reasonable and required remedial measures he designed into the law to protect our water supply for us, our children and our grandchildren. I wish he would please explain to us all why he hasn't and why he remains silent while his well ordinance and the water supplies it is designed to protect and conserve is ignored and disregarded continuously since 1998 by his successors, supervisors Wormhoudt and Coonerty, and, apparently, by himself as well.

Aptos resident Doug Deitch is executive director of the Monterey Bay Conservancy.

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