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Dollars flow for College Lake study: State awards $1 million...

Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Dollars flow for College Lake study: State awards $1 million for Pajaro Valley watershed projects

WATSONVILLE -- A thirsty Pajaro Valley is increasingly turning its attention to a seasonal body of water known at College Lake just east of the city.

Now there's some dollars behind the interest.

Friday, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency General Manager Mary Bannister announced a coalition of government agencies has been awarded $1 million for projects in the 1,300-square-mile Pajaro River watershed, including $230,000 to study managing College Lake to enhance water supply, flood control and steelhead habitat.

For years, water that feeds College Lake during rainy winter months has been pumped into creeks and sent out to the Monterey Bay each spring so growers can plant summer crops.

In December, during a visit to the lake, Bannister estimated the lake could produce as much as 2,000 acre feet of water, about the amount it would take to irrigate 1,000 acres of strawberries. The amount is not enough to solve a 14,000-acre-foot Pajaro Valley groundwater deficit, but it's not a drop in the bucket either.

But there are unanswered questions, such as water quality and cost. The study will help find answers.

Bannister credited county Water Resources Division Director John Ricker and Karen Christensen, executive director of the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, with pushing to get College Lake on the list.

"We all think it needs to be done," Bannister said. "We're very excited about it."

The grant also will go toward studying sediment in the Pajaro and San Benito rivers, to develop salt and nutrient management plans in the Pajaro Valley and to update a regional water management plan.

San Benito County Water District will administer the grant for the group, which also includes Bannister's agency and the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The grant is funded through Proposition 84, a bond measure passed by voters in 2006.

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