Scotts Valley Water District (SVWD) relies on groundwater from the Santa Margarita Groundwater Basin for providing potable water to its customers. Recycled water is also available for non-potable uses such as landscape irrigation.
Groundwater is just that! It is water that is found underground. It fills in spaces between soil, sand and rocks beneath the ground in areas known as aquifers. How does groundwater get underground? Groundwater supplies are replenished, or recharged, by rain that seeps down into the cracks and crevices beneath the land's surface. In Scotts Valley, groundwater is life!
Unlike most other water districts in Santa Cruz County, groundwater is the only source of drinking water for SVWD customers. Careful management is necessary to protect and sustain groundwater resources today and into the future.
The District’s groundwater is stored in the Santa Margarita Groundwater Basin, which is comprised of the Santa Margarita Sandstone, Monterey Shale, Lompico and Butano formations. Rainfall is the main source of recharge — or refilling — the basin.
The District operates wells that vary from 350 feet to 1,750 feet deep. A new well, the Sucinto Well, is being drilled in Summer 2023 to improve the reliability for the water supply. Pumped water is filtered through a pressurized system of sand, gravel and anthracite to remove iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide from the water. Chemicals are introduced before and after filtration to oxidize the iron and disinfect the water. This treatment enables the District to meet Federal and State drinking water standards.
There are three water treatment plants in the District:
- Orchard Run Water Treatment Plant treats water from wells 7A and 3B and has a capacity of 1.08 million gallons per day.
- El Pueblo Water Treatment Plant treats water from wells 11A and 11B and has a capacity of 547,000 gallons per day.
- Well 10 has an on-site water treatment plant with a capacity of 432,000 gallons per day.
Through annual reports for the community, the District provides updates on groundwater conditions and system operations in the Scotts Valley area of the Santa Margarita Basin. The District shares the groundwater basin with San Lorenzo Valley Water District and Mount Hermon Association, as well as local businesses and residents using private wells. All of these agencies and groups are partners in the newly formed Santa Margarita Groundwater Agency, established to sustainably manage this shared resource.
Santa Margarita Groundwater Agency
The Santa Margarita Groundwater Basin (SMGB) is a primary source of water supply for Scotts Valley, San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz. It covers over 30 square miles in the Santa Cruz Mountains foothill forming a triangular area that extends from Scotts Valley to the east, Boulder Creek to the northwest and Felton to the southwest.
The major water purveyors that directly rely on the supply from SMGB are Scotts Valley Water District (SVWD), San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) and Mount Hermon Association (MHA). SMGB is also the sole supply source for 13 small water systems and over 1,100 private well users. In addition, the City of Santa Cruz derives a major portion of its supply from the San Lorenzo River watershed that overlaps the basin.
The decline of groundwater levels in many parts of the basin occurred during 1985-2004 representing a loss in groundwater storage in SMGB by an estimated 28,000 acre-feet resulting in diminished local water supply and reduced sustaining base flows to local streams that support fishery habitats. Thanks to conservation and other management efforts at local water agencies, the total pumping from SMGB has decreased by 45% since 1997. For the last 10 years, the demand and supply in the basin have been in balance.
The Santa Margarita Groundwater Agency is a joint-powers authority that oversees the groundwater management activities of the Santa Margarita Basin Area in Santa Cruz County, California. The agency has three member agencies: Scotts Valley Water District, San Lorenzo Valley Water District, and County of Santa Cruz and is governed by an 11-member Board of Directors comprising of two representatives from each member agency, one representative from the City of Scotts Valley, one from the City of Santa Cruz, one from Mount Hermon Association, and two well owner representatives. Learn more.
- The early 1980s: SVWD began actively managing groundwater in the area to increase water supply reliability and to protect local water supply sources.
- 1983: SVWD instituted a Water Resources Management Plan to monitor and manage water resources.
- 1994: The District formally adopted a Groundwater Management Plan in accordance with AB3030, also known as the Groundwater Management Act under Water Code section 10750.
- 1995: SVWD, SLVWD, MHA, LCWD, City of Scotts Valley and County of Santa Cruz signed a Memorandum of Understanding forming Santa Margarita Groundwater Basin Advisory Committee that was actively involved in the cooperative groundwater management of the basin until its dissolution and substitution with Santa Margarita Groundwater Agency (SMGWA) in 2017.
- 2017: SMGWA a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), was formed as a joint powers authority in June 2017.
Under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, overdrafted groundwater basins need to be sustainably managed by a GSA through the development of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The GSP must be completed by 2022 and the basin must reach sustainability by 2042.
Sustainable Growth and Development
Is there enough water to support the needs of the community? Will there be enough water to support future growth? How can the impacts of climate change on the water supply be managed? These are important questions to consider. The discussion of these questions becomes even more compelling when put into the historical context of local water resources in Scotts Valley area that were overused due to the lack of awareness about the efficient use and value of water.
Approximately 214 new residential water connections were added in the last five years, resulting in a 4% estimated increase in demand. Additional demand has also come from revitalized commercial areas, including 1440 Multiversity on Bethany Drive and Enterprise Technology Center along Santa’s Village Road.
System demand for potable water actually dropped 22% in recent years, from 473 million gallons in 2013 to just 370 million gallons in 2018.
Of course, much of the movement toward more efficient use of water came during the historic drought. California experienced four consecutive years of significantly below-average precipitation, beginning in 2012 and the governor declared a drought emergency in 2014 that included water conservation regulations.
However, water use in our area did not rebound when the last drought ended. In fact, the average daily potable demand by Scotts Valley Water District customers today remains as low as it was during the height of the drought, reflecting a change in behavior toward greater conservation.
The District’s recycled water system also helps reduce potable water demand. The recycled water system provides irrigation for parks, schools, commercial and residential landscaping. The use of recycled water peaked at 71 million gallons in 2013 and averages 58-66 million gallons of water a year now.
These factors have all contributed to a significant reduction in the District’s demand on the aquifers of the Santa Margarita Groundwater Basin, helping groundwater levels stabilize.
Water use efficiency is one of the elements of water supply and demand balancing, but not the only one. Equally important is supplemental supply planning and the District has been very focused on this in the last couple of decades: recycled water, stormwater LID, conjunctive use and advanced purified recycled water.
Scotts Valley Water District is constantly working to minimize water waste to protect this shared resource – groundwater – and support the community’s future.