Pure Water Soquel project faces environmental civil lawsuit – Santa Cruz Sentinel

SOQUEL — A leader in a grassroots group pushing for interagency transfers to solve regional water supply shortfalls has filed an environmental lawsuit against Soquel Creek Water District.

The civil lawsuit, filed Jan. 17 and amended Jan. 31 in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, takes aim at the water district’s Pure Water Soquel project, which its board of directors approved in December. The suit points to alleged shortcomings in Pure Water Soquel’s state-mandated environmental impact report, particularly in the areas of response to public comment. Public court documentation for Steinbruner’s amendment was not immediately available Monday.

Aptos resident Becky Steinbruner, who is also a member of the Water for Santa Cruz County group, is named as the sole plaintiff in the suit. Steinbruner, 63, is representing herself in the court proceedings. She said unincorporated entities such as Water for Santa Cruz are required to obtain legal representation in court, a costly venture which Steinbruner said she was seeking to sidestep by filing, instead, as a concerned citizen.

Steinbruner who is not a customer of Soquel Creek Water District, said she is taking action “for the protection of what I see as my community.”

“I took it because, I, like many other people, am concerned that injecting treated sewage water — and that’s what it is — into the groundwater that supplies the potable drinking water for not only the Soquel Creek Water District customers, but a number of other people, small water companies, private well users. It potentially could contaminate the entire groundwater supply for the MidCounty area if there are accidents or human error, similar to what happened about a year ago in Marina when also a very state-of-the-art system failed and no one noticed and it dumped 4.9 million gallons of raw sewage into the Bay.

The Pure Water Soquel project proposes to reuse water — treated secondary effluent — normally discharged into the ocean by the Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Plant. Before being pumped into an underground aquifer, the disinfected water would undergo further cleansing, via  microfiltration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet rays and advanced oxidation.

The Soquel Creek Water District board will hear an update on the lawsuit during a closed-session meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, when Steinbruner said she intends to attend to speak at an initial public comment period. Water district General Manager Ron Duncan said Monday that he did not anticipate the board will take action during its closed-door talks; likely, rather, to give legal counsel and staff general direction.

Reading from a prepared statement, Duncan said district officials and its legal team believe the lawsuit “is without any legal merit.”

“While we appreciate the plaintiff expressing their concerns and desires, the Pure Water Soquel environmental project is vitally important to serve the water needs of our customers and protect the overdrafted groundwater basin from further seawater contamination,” Duncan said. “Therefore, the district will vigorously defend the environmental impact report and the Pure Water Soquel environmental project to best serve our community and protect the environment.”

The Pure Water Soquel lawsuit is not Steinbruner’s first involvement in environmental impact-related litigation. Another group she was involved with, We Are Aptos, unsuccessfully sued Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. The 2016 suit alleged that a promised county park was left off the final planning map for the large-scale Aptos Village project. That lawsuit came in the midst of Steinbruner’s campaign for the 2nd District supervisor’s seat, putting her up against incumbent Zach Friend. Ultimately, Friend won re-election with 72 percent of the vote. A year earlier, Steinbruner had led an unsuccessful attempt to recall Friend after the Board of Supervisors denied her appeal of the Aptos Village development.

If you go

What: Soquel Creek Water District meeting.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Capitola City Hall, 420 Capitola Road.

At issue: Closed session discussion of Steinbruner litigation.

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