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Conservation tops list of ways to solve Pajaro Valley water woes...

Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Conservation tops list of ways to solve Pajaro Valley water woes; committee recommends $47 million in projects

WATSONVILLE - A committee looking for solutions to Pajaro Valley's ground-water deficit is recommending $47 million in capital projects.

But topping the list are conservation and tapping recycled wastewater to cut the shortfall in half.

The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency board of directors was to get an update on the committee's work Wednesday, but the meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum when only three of seven directors showed up.

The board is scheduled to take up the recommendations July 18.

According to the committee report, a conservation program could save 5,000 acre-feet of water annually.

An acre foot of water is about 326,000 gallons. On average, about 2 acre-feet are used to produce an acre of strawberries.

Committee members said it's a realistic goal, although the details of how it would be achieved are still to be worked out.

"I believe it has great potential," said Steve Palmisano, Watsonville deputy public works director, of conservation. "If the city can do it, ag can do it. The city is using the same amount of water as we were 10 years ago, and we have 20 percent more population."

But agency Director Dennis Osmer is more skeptical and wants to see specifics.

"The city isn't growing food," he said.

An average of 55,000 acre-feet is pumped from Pajaro Valley wells each year - about 12,000 acre-feet more than sustainable levels - and farmers use about 85 percent of the water for irrigation.

Committee members said outreach, particularly to growers using water inefficiently, would be needed to meet the goal.

Some in the agriculture community are already working to reduce water use. A group known as Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogue, for example, is working to install a network of wireless transmitters to allow growers to remotely monitor moisture in their fields for more precise irrigation.

The agency committee looked at more than 40 projects during the past year before settling on the recommendations.

Also on the list are:

Upgrading a ground-water recharge project at Harkins Slough, $1 million

Increasing storage of recycled water, $6.2 million

Adding a recharge project at Watsonville Slough, $11.2 million

Piping water from College Lake off East Lake Avenue to coastal farms, $28.5 million.

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