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Let’s talk about Water


Without access to water, a property essentially has no value. We are just emerging from a 6 year drought, and with man-made climate change on the horizon, it’s important to ask, where does our water come from, and is it sustainable?

As a resident of the County, your water comes from:

  • 5 larger water suppliers
  • 4 smaller systems
  • 130 small systems
  • 8,000 private wells

And you are part of one of the following water districts:

  • San Lorenzo valley
  • Santa cruz city (not all customers are in city limits)
  • Soquel
  • Watsonville
  • Pajaro valley


Nearly all of Santa Cruz County’s water supply is locally derived from surface (streams and reservoirs – 20% of supply) and groundwater sources (80% of supply). This is beneficial because Santa Cruz often has more control in times of drought whereas those Counties that rely on State and Federal water programs have less control over rationing and water management.

Santa Cruz still faces major challenges in managing its groundwater supply — annually we are extracting more water from the ground than is being naturally replenished. Additionally, climate change is projected to reduce supply by 30% by 2100. Due to climate change, researchers expect an increase in irrigation demand, longer and more extreme droughts, a reduction in rainfall, and higher temperatures.

Santa Cruz is not the only county facing persistent water issues. As a result, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) into law on January 1st of 2015. Under the SGMA, local agencies must form groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) by 2017 and create groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) for high and medium priority basins by 2020 or 2022. The following GSA’s have been formed here in Santa Cruz:

These agencies have the following powers under SGMA:

  • Adopt rules, regulations, and ordinances and resolutions
  • Investigate water rights
  • Require well registration, extraction reports and storage diversions
  • Acquire property and water rights
  • Reclaim water
  • Impose fees
  • Conduct enforcement actions for failure to comply

With the ability to enforce eminent domain (taking one’s property with fair compensation), these GSA’s are not to be overlooked. During a talk given to Realtors at the Santa Cruz County Association of Realtors, a representative of the Santa Cruz Mid-County Agency stated that the agency would like to much rather work with the community than “use the stick” and enforce laws that infringe upon people’s property rights. The Santa Cruz Mid-County Agency is actively looking for members for its Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee and the Santa Margarita Groundwater Agency meetings are open to the public. Playing an active role in these committees is one way proactively protect your water rights while helping our community find sustainable water-management solutions.

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