Beginning in October, the rainy season in Santa Cruz brings about 24 inches of winter rainfall on average. By the end of February this year, Santa Cruz saw slightly under 8.5 inches. Due to the recent abnormally dry winter season, Santa Cruz’s water department officials declared a stage one water shortage alert on May 1.
From May 1 to Oct. 31, the city, including UC Santa Cruz, and parts of Santa Cruz County will be under stage one water shortage restrictions. This includes a ban on mid-day landscape watering, a requirement to fix leaks within 24 hours and that restaurants serve drinking water only upon request.
“The basic challenge for our system is to have enough water at the end of this year,” said water conservation manager at City of Santa Cruz Water Department Toby Goddard. “So if next year were the driest year on record, we would be able to weather that.”
Despite rainfall Santa Cruz did get in March and April, streamflow from Loch Lomond reservoir into the San Lorenzo river is still about one-third its average amount. Because of this, the San Lorenzo River will be mostly dry until October or November, according to Goddard. Loch Lomond reservoir and the San Lorenzo River combined are two-thirds of the drinking water supply for nearly 100,000 people in the greater Santa Cruz area.
The water department uses a five-stage response system depending on the severity of the water shortage. The last alert was a stage three water shortage emergency that was announced and lifted in 2015.
“It’s been six years out of the last ten we’ve had to take some form of action to cut back water use during the summer,” Goddard said. “Six times in the last ten years is pretty frequent.”
Regulation will be actively enforced through field personnel who will investigate any signs of leaks, breaks and water waste. Those in violation of the restrictions are subject to a written notice and subsequent fines.
The alert will continue to be announced through various media channels like newsletters, over the next six months and will apply to all sectors such as residential, business and hospitality.
“As we go into the tourist time of the year,” Goddard said, “this stage one water shortage alert is a way to get people’s attention of another dry year and to urge them to exercise caution in the way they use water for the summer.”