Water Supply

February 20, 2023

The economy of the Pajaro Valley relies on the availability of water. Eighty-four per cent of water use is used for agriculture and is almost all supplied by groundwater (Hanson, 2003). Because the Pajaro River watershed crosses multiple county lines, the water supply is monitored by several agencies.

The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (PVWMA) is the leading agency responsible for managing the existing and supplemental water supplies within its service boundaries. Some of the agency’s goals are to reduce long-term overdrafts and ensure sufficient water supplies are available to meet current and projected needs. The agency is only responsible for non-potable (irrigation) water availability.

The following local water purveyors are responsible for supplying potable (drinking) water:

  • The City of Watsonville is a central urban service area within PVWMA boundaries. The City provides various municipal and industrial services, including wastewater collection and treatment and water supply services for the residents of Watsonville.
  • Pajaro/Sunny Mesa Community Services District is a water supplier for smaller communities in the Pajaro Valley and has consolidated water delivery services for several mutual water companies in northern Monterey County.
  • Aromas Water District is located on the easterly edge of the PVWMA service area. This particular district provides water treatment and supply services for approximately 750 customers.

History and Background

Water Supply

The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) extensively investigated the water supply in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties in 1953. It was concluded that the Pajaro Valley groundwater basin was in an overdraft, causing saltwater intrusion. By the 1970s, groundwater levels in Watsonville were below sea level most of the year. In 1980, the SWRCB identified the Pajaro Valley basin as one of eleven California basins with critical overdraft conditions. By 2000, 54 square miles of the basin were below sea level.

Overdraft is caused by pumping more groundwater than is naturally put in. Incoming sources of water that recharge the basin include rainfall, snowmelt, rivers, and lakes. One result of the imbalance of input v. output of water is the reversal of the natural flow of the basin. Saltwater begins to replenish the bay instead of freshwater.

The PVWMA estimates the current saltwater intrusion rate to be 100-250 ft/yr, with its effects already extending several miles inland. The SWRCB estimated a loss of 300,000 af (acre-feet) of freshwater storage in the basin from 1964-1997, with approximately 200,000 af of loss due to saltwater intrusion and 100,000 af due to chronic overdraft.

PVWMA groundwater modelling has indicated a sustainable yield for the Pajaro Valley groundwater basin is 24,000 af/yr. However, the sustainable harvest can be increased to 48,000 af/yr if coastal pumping is eliminated and the groundwater basin is replenished with a different source. In 2008, 62,000 af were pumped, and if recent trends continue, the volume of pumped water will continue to increase (see Pajaro Valley Water Usage and Precipitation Table). The PVWMA estimates that by 2025, the water demand for its service area will be 76,900 AFY (acre-feet per year).

  • Pajaro Valley Hydrologic Model Base-Case Scenario
    See PVWMA Hydrologist Brian Lockwood’s presentation to the Board of Directors regarding a new hydrologic model for the Pajaro Valley as presented on March 23, 2011.
  • Pajaro Valley Water Usage & Precipitation Table
    This table shows the volume of water used and total precipitation from 1999-2010.

Efforts to Increase Supply

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The most current plan for increased water supply in the Pajaro Valley is the PVWMA Basin Management Plan (BMP). The strategy adopted by the PVWMA was the “Modified BMP 2000 Alternative” and included the following five significant projects and programs:

  1. Coastal Distribution System pipelines
  2. Recycled Water Project
  3. Harkins Slough recharge Project
  4. 54-inch import water pipeline project (11,900 acre-feet of imported supply) with local aquifer storage and recovery
  5. Water conservation program

The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (PVWMA) has begun the Basin Management Plan Update (BMP Update). PVWMA is forming an Ad Hoc BMP Committee to allow the Pajaro Valley community to help guide the development of the BMP Update and serve as advisors to the PVWMA Board of Directors. The mission of the Committee is to integrate ideas and concepts and identify potential projects to mitigate long-term groundwater overdrafts, stop seawater intrusion, and protect water quality through a community-wide effort involving all interested stakeholders. The Basin Management Plan committee released a presentation in July 2011 regarding preliminary project ideas. Check our Calendar for upcoming Ad Hoc BMP Update Committee meeting dates and agendas.

Community Water Dialogue

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Statement of Purpose:

To provide a forum for a diverse and representative group of Pajaro Valley stakeholders committed to a shared vision, to be educated on the facts behind the water issue and the potential solutions, exchange ideas and leverage each other to spur individual and collaborative action within the community. 

We will work together to develop recommendations to influence related water efforts that comprehensively and systematically address the imbalance of water supply and demand while ensuring agricultural viability in the Pajaro Valley.

Letter of Commitment:

The Pajaro Valley is a precious agricultural resource. Despite being the most northerly coastal valley in California, it is in many ways milder than those to the south. While the primary crops have changed through the years and will likely continue to change, there is no doubt that as long as there is land and water available, the Pajaro Valley’s extraordinary climate will be sought after to produce essential and highly valued crops. We desire to see the Pajaro Valley continue as a vibrant and valuable agricultural resource.

The current water use method will radically diminish the valley’s future agricultural potential. We are extracting water well over the current replenishment capacity. We desire to reach an equilibrium of use and replenishment over the next decade.

As the dream of large-scale water importation has faded, we must now find ways to live within our means. Undoubtedly we will have to capture more of our rainfall for recharge and irrigation. We will have to embrace opportunities to reuse water more effectively and learn to take some advantage of the water flows in the Pajaro River. In addition, we must be prepared to conserve even more in our irrigation practices, create fallow periods for our land and perhaps retire some land from production altogether. 

In any case, achieving the equilibrium goal will disrupt current land and water use practices. While this disruption will likely cause significant pain as we adjust to new systems, it is far better than the possible destruction of much of the valley as an agricultural resource we are now facing.

Landowners, farmers and citizens of this valley will all need to make changes to secure this precious resource’s long-term agricultural viability. There are several reasons to act now:

1)The slow, steady decline in water quality and quantity is continuing

2)Farming practices are intensifying and could exaggerate the water issues unless they are addressed soon

3)Ultimately, agricultural land values in the valley are likely to be impacted because of water concerns

4)If adjudication were to occur, it would take a long time, involve massive legal expenses and would be unlikely to produce a result as appropriate as one designed by local people.

As landowners and land users benefiting greatly from the uniqueness of this beautiful valley, we recognize that we are contributors to the issue and must be ready to make significant changes to “business as usual.” We are prepared to step forward and make those changes in partnership with our colleagues across the valley. It is time to guide our future and not just let it happen.

The issues surrounding water in the Pajaro Valley have been extraordinarily divisive over the past several decades. We sense there is significant unity regarding what we are trying to accomplish but intense disagreement over how to do so. We believe we must simplify the issues first to make progress and are seeking concerned stakeholders who share the following:

1)A commitment to protect the Pajaro Valley as an essential agricultural resource

2)A recognition that the solution will not be an importation pipeline

3)A willingness to pursue diverse strategies which entail costs and sacrifices to bring our aquifer into balance

The human race faces complicated global issues of resource exploitation and environmental degradation. With so many differences in cultures, wealth and resource use across vast distances, we will be severely challenged to progress globally. On the other hand, one can cross our little valley on a bicycle in an hour. With only one or two intermediaries, we all know each other. All our fates are closely linked in real and tangible ways. We are in a position to create long-term solutions for our water issues with the resources we have at hand. We ask our fellow citizens to commit to preserving this precious resource and to set an example that will benefit the people of this valley and our two counties and provide leadership in solving some of the broader issues we all face.

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Working Groups

The four working groups within the Community Water Dialogue are listed below with contact information and associated documents.

Land Management and Irrigation Best Practices
Focus: Training and education, and irrigation technology
John E. Eiskamp: [email protected]

Focus: Centralized, easily accessible and coordinated information about the water issue and progress toward solutions, ongoing engagement
Jacqueline Vazquez: [email protected]

Focus: Private recharge and catchment projects to increase water supply
Rachel Stillerman: [email protected]

Big Projects
Focus: College Lake, nightly/in-season use, and winter/off-season storage
Chuck Allen: [email protected]

If you are interested in joining our commitment and the pursuit of solutions that we can own for ourselves, please email your comments to [email protected].

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Meeting Updates

At the last meeting on May 15, a tour highlighted the projects that CWD has worked on for the past two years. The time began at John E. Eiskamp’s ranch, J.E. Farms, where we observed a Hortau tower and John’s Wireless Irrigation Network. The Resource Conservation District then demonstrated how they evaluated the efficiency of John’s field. The tour ended at the Bokariza/Drobac site, where Professor Andy Fisher explained the design and progress of the managed aquifer recharge project that has been underway. For the tour agenda, click here. To see photos from the tour, click here.

On Tuesday, July 10, from 1 pm-4 pm, the Community Water Dialogue representatives that sit on PVWMA’s Ad Hoc Basin Management Plan (BMP) Committee will host a meeting at the Watsonville Civic Center in Community Room B(Please note that we will only have one side of the large room this time. Come straight to the meeting rooms on the top floor to get your parking pass which you can place inside your windshield.)

This meeting will be the community’s first look at the Committee’s recommendations. In this forum, you will have an opportunity to understand the framework of the proposals, the due diligence done by the group, the estimated costs associated with those recommendations, and the next steps. This is your opportunity to ask any questions and give input. If you are an inland or coastal grower, we hope you will make an extra effort to attend. Along with our other stakeholder groups, your perspective/questions must be well represented.

Please note that on July 18, the week following our forum, the Committee will present and turn over their recommendation to the PVWMA Board.

As we get closer to our meeting, I will forward a high-level outline of the Committee’s options and recommendations so you can read them in advance.

We sought feedback and the best way to get good grower participation and provide training and outreach to ensure success. We are very excited about the development of this effort and appreciate your input. We also had updates on other work and a presentation highlighting best practices.

To keep the conversation focused and productive, we will continue with the same ground rules for participation:

  1. You must agree with the principles as laid out in the Statement of Purpose (above)
    · A commitment to protect the Pajaro Valley as an essential agricultural resource
    · A recognition that the solution will not be an importation pipeline
    · A willingness to pursue diverse strategies which entail costs and sacrifices to bring our aquifer into balance

2. The conversation will be focused on solutions and will therefore not include:
· A review or rehash of past failures
· Discussion about the past actions or character of any individual community member regarding the water issue

Please visit the Calendar for upcoming meetings and events regarding the Community Water Dialogue.

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Drought & Irrigation Conservation Conference

On April 10, 2014, the Community Water Dialogue (CWD) partnered with the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (PVWMA), the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, hosted the 2014 Drought and Irrigation Conference. Held at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, the event featured tools, technology, and resources for growers to save money while improving water use efficiency. 

Presentations also included strategies to improve the soil’s ability to hold and infiltrate water. Over 120 people attended, primarily growers or landowners in the Pajaro Valley. Vendors presented innovative technologies to improve irrigation efficiencies, such as wireless soil moisture tensiometers, telemetry units for measuring plant water needs, and pump automation systems. Growers could sign up for technical assistance support through resource management agencies and organizations.

Click here to access presentations and information provided by the conference speakers.

Follow these links to participating resource organizations and vendors:

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