By Sam Laird
Students and residents frustrated by construction delays on High St., your wait may finally be over.
The multi-million dollar Bay St. Reservoir System Transmission Improvement Project, meant to quicken the replenishment of Santa Cruz’s treated water supply, is now almost a month behind schedule, but looks to be wrapping up shortly. Repaving on High St. is tentatively set for the week of Oct. 16.
According to Linette Almond, Santa Cruz’s Deputy Water Director, the project originated with the 1998 El Nino winter storms, when the city temporarily ran out of water to treat at the Graham Hill Water Treatment Plant. For a couple of days the entire city was living off of treated water in storage, mainly from the Bay St. Reservoir, where most of Santa Cruz’s treated water is held. This reliance caused the reservoir’s water level to drop dramatically. It took six weeks to bring the reservoir back to full storage capacity because of the 18-inch transmission main in use to transport water from the Graham Hill Plant.
"We consider that to be an unacceptable risk, so now we’re putting in a 24-inch transmission main so we can fill the reservoir faster," Almond said. "It’s happening eight years later because it takes eight years to do a project like this. We had to do a study, make a hydraulic model, make a design, get the environmental papers, and get permits."
The 35 million gallon reservoir, which is located a couple blocks southeast of High St. between Cardiff Place and Moore St., holds about 80 percent of the city’s treated water storage capacity. It could supply Santa Cruz with up to three days of treated drinking water in the event of a major catastrophe or emergency.
Mountain Cascade, Inc., based in Livermore, was awarded the contract for the project last spring after submitting a bid for nearly 15 million dollars.
However, construction has been delayed by a number of factors. Delays result from a "very hard rock near Kalkar Drive" and problems working around a fragile distribution pipe which dates back to 1890, according to a July 28 update from Doug Valby, Associate Engineer for the City Water Department.
The extended construction resulting from these conflicts has been troublesome for neighborhood residents and UC Santa Cruz students alike.
"I usually get around by bike or skateboard, and it’s really unpleasant. There are dangerous potholes and bumps everywhere and the dust can be out of control. I’ve pretty much just stopped using High," said Manuel Soria, a fourth-year UCSC student from Crown College.
Santa Cruz resident Jule Herman, who has lived at the corner of High and Laurent for six months, expressed concern over noise and dust.
"I walk a lot and the dust is unbearable sometimes," Herman said. "There’s a lot of noise, too. The corner we live on is really intense in terms of machinery."
According to Deputy Water Director Almond, that dust and noise should have been gone weeks ago.
"We actually started the project the week after school ended, trying to get it all finished before school started again in the fall," she said. "The contractor didn’t meet their Sept. 15 target date, so they’re trying to finish up now and pave the week of Oct. 16. They’re a month behind schedule, which really isn’t bad, given the nature of the project."
UCSC student Willa Miller described that nature as "higgledy piggledy" while she took High Street home from school last week.
"There’s always traffic, the road markings aren’t clear, and the rerouting is bad, so it’s congested wherever you go," said Miller, a fourth year from Stevenson College. "Now I have to plan my route to school every day, which is really annoying."
Despite Almond’s reassuring words, neighborhood resident Herman isn’t holding her breath for the completion of the project.
"We ask the workers all the time, ‘when are you going to be finished?’" she said, "It’s a different story every time."