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WATSONVILLE — The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency took a big step in a new direction on Aug. 15, accepting a recommendation from its own Basin Management Plan Committee to adopt a new BMP plan that will hopefully address the valley’s annual shortfall of water that is draining the aquifer and adding to the problem of saltwater intrusion.
Using a mix of conservation and new sources, the new BMP plan aims to add 12,000 acre feet per year to the Pajaro Valley’s water supply. It was created by a 21-member committee, picked by the PVWMA’s board.
“The PVWMA is starting to ask the community first what they want to do, instead of dictating to the community what they feel is correct for the community,” said Kirk Schmidt, vice chair of the BMP committee. “So I feel this will have a much higher likelihood of success because of that … it’s a remarkable change and approach by the PVWMA.”
Many coastal farms can’t use the water in their wells without diluting it because seawater is seeping into them as the aquifer falls. The PVWMA is under pressure from the State Water Resources Control Board to address the problem of saltwater intrusion and there has been a fear that the whole issue would wind up in adjudication, with water allotments being settled in court.
It took months to select the members of the committee, as more and more members were added to appease various political factions. Then, the committee spent nearly two years creating the plan, which still needs more details, but creates a framework.
The PVWMA board passed a motion to accept the committee’s recommendations on a 6-1 vote.
“We’re moving forward,” said Board Chair Rosemarie Imazio triumphantly.
But director Dennis Osmer, the lone vote against, was not so jubilant.
“There are some real obstacles that haven’t been brought to light and I hope they will be discussed,” he said.
During deliberations, Osmer said the plan was not detailed enough and relied far too much on conservation measures that the agency could only hope were followed by farmers.
The plan hopes to find about 5,000 acre feet of water per year by improving efficiency in the fields and convincing growers to use the new methods. The city of Watsonville has also targeted a 1,000 AFY reduction in water use through conservation. The new plan also aims to get 3,000 AFY through optimizing the use of existing supplies. A recycled water plant west of town is capable of producing 4,000 AFY is producing only about half that. Another program that recovers water flowing out to the bay and sends it back into the aquifer at Harkins Slough could add another 1,000 AFY.
New water supplies account for just 4,100 AFY. Most of that would come from a project at College Lake, where water could be stored and then piped to various sites. Its projected yield would be 2,400 AFY. A recharge basin in Watsonville Slough would add another 1,200 AFY and a recharge basin near Murphy’s Crossing would add another 500 AFY.
A host of other alternatives were considered by the committee, but were deemed too expensive. A rubber dam at Murphy’s Crossing, a saltwater desalination plant, groundwater demineralization and other ideas were all tossed around and eventually dropped. The total costs of the proposed plan is $46.9 million.
“It’s the cheapest way to go and unfortunately, cheapest isn’t always best,” Osmer said.
Osmer said that the new BMP plan should provide more of a stick if growers did not conserve water and that the new plan was more of the same tired “solutions” that had already failed. He said farmers should be asked to do more.
“Certainly we are asking them to do something, but we are just asking them to do it. … We have no data on conservation. It’s all theoretical. … The argument that people will conserve because they have to is extremely weak,” he said. “I don’t see that we’ve done enough to raise the value of water here.”
Director John Eiskamp, often a critic of the PVWMA — even filing suit against the agency while he sat on the board — told Osmer he was off base. He warned that now was not the time to hit growers with another big hike in production costs.
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