Grand Jury Complaint 

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September 3,1999

Mr. Al Richards
Santa Cruz County Grand Jury
701 Ocean Street
Santa Cruz, California, 95061

Santa Cruz County Grand Jury Complaint
Re: Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors Nonaction On Countywide Groundwater Emergency

Dear Foreman Richards and Jury Members,

On June 9, 1998, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors accepted and filed a long awaited report from the County Administrative Officer entitled "Water Resources Management" dated June 4, 1998, revealing "a disturbing picture of the eroding status of water resources in the County". This report documented significant county-wide overdraft conditions in all four county groundwater basins as well as noting that the effects of overdraft within the jurisdiction of one agency significantly affect the available supply of neighboring agencies. As an example of the severity of the problem, the report noted that the rate of seawater intrusion in the Pajaro (PVWMA) groundwater basin (shared with Soquel Creek Water District-SCWD) caused by agricultural overuse was in the range of 10,000-15,000 acre-feet/year. This volume of seawater intrusion is greater than total water use in mid-County, San Lorenzo Valley, and Scotts Valley.

At the specific request of the Board, this report also included an analysis by County Counsel on the County's authority relative to water resources management. In summary, County Counsel advised the Board that the County's general constitutional police powers to adopt ordinances to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare extend to surface and groundwater management. These powers provided the County with substantial regulatory authority regarding water management activities. Most significantly, the report noted that, as of June of 1998, the County's authority, relative to water resources management, apparently exceeded those of special districts and water agencies such as PVWMA and SCWD.

At the same June 9th, 1998 Board meeting, in my oral testimony before the Board on this agenda item, I recommended to the Board that the process to declare a county-wide groundwater emergency be immediately commenced by the setting of a public hearing (as County ordinances require) and that other measures be considered. I additionally advised the Board that the county report substantially understated the actual severity of the Pajaro problem, according to the most recently completed and unconsidered "second opinion" study conducted by Bookman-Edmundsen for PVWMA in May of 1998. I documented and followed up my testimony before the Board by my letter to the Board of date June 15, 1998. 

Additionally, on June 12, 1998, Supervisor Almquist, by his letter to the Board, also recommended that a public hearing be set at the June 16, 1998 meeting to consider adoption of a declaration of groundwater emergency, though only in the jurisdiction of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency. On a 3-2 vote, Supervisors Wormhoudt, Belgard, and Symons refused to take any action.

By my letter to the Board of June 17, 1998, I requested, based on the language contained in Section 7.70.130 of our County ordinances on water wells, that the Board reconsider their decision to take no action. This section provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

"A groundwater emergency shall be declared in areas demonstrated to be experiencing a groundwater overdraft exceeding safe yield in order to prevent further depletion and degradation of water resources where such degradation threatens the public health, safety, and welfare..."

By her letter to me of June 19th, Chairperson Beautz indicated that the Board understood my position but would not reconsider its nonaction on this.

Over one year later on June 22, 1999, at their special joint meeting with PVWMA, the Board finally set a public hearing for October 5, 1999 for consideration of declaration of a groundwater emergency, though again only in the jurisdiction of PVWMA. However, in the interim, the California Court of Appeals case Rodeo Sanitary District vs. Contra Costa County , decided May 10, 1999, concluded that, in case of a direct conflict between the legislative authority granted to a district (such as PVWMA) and the police powers granted to a county by the State Constitution, the district's powers would prevail, apparently stripping our Board of its former authority to regulate groundwater in the Santa Cruz County portion

Due to critical importance of this matter to the welfare of our community, the dire conditions in SCWD, and the apparent damage that the Board's dilatoriness and apparent lack of compliance with the mandate created by our laws on this matter has already caused, I respectfully request that the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury immediately and expeditiously conduct a complete investigation of this matter and issue a public report containing its opinions, recommendations, and censures, as it deems appropriate.

I am aware of the Grand Jury's ongoing current and recent past activities in this area and heartily applaud you for your wisdom and efforts to date. Our community will be very grateful for your interest in this most important matter. As our water supplies continue to be continuously and permanently wasted on an unconscionable scale, time is of the essence. I trust you will be able to prioritize my complaint to you commensurate to the overriding importance that this issue poses for the establishment of a sustainable use of our vital and irreplaceable groundwater resources in our community and region.

I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.

Respectfully submitted,

Douglas Deitch


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