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Santa Cruz County residents are already experiencing the effects of climate change, which are expected to only increase in the coming decades. These effects include longer, more intense, and more frequent droughts, which are punctuated by more extreme rain events. Additionally, wildfire risk in the County is projected to continue increasing, with the danger being greatest in the mountainous areas of north and central County. Residents that get their water from a private well are especially vulnerable to these impacts, but the County has resources to help your private domestic well adapt to climate change. In addtion to county resources, the state Division of Drinking Water also provides valuable information for private well owners on their "Be Well Prepared" webpage.
How Can The County Help Your Domestic Well?
Santa Cruz County has secured funding for several programs that can help private wells that have been impacted by drought.
Increasing drought conditions can lead to private wells going dry. Santa Cruz County can provide 3,800 gallons of hauled water per household every 6 weeks, at no cost, to private well owners whose well has gone dry due to drought. To receive this assistance, you will need to report the dry well through the State reporting system. County staff will review the report to determine if the well is likely to have gone dry or if there is another issue causing the well to stop producing water. If the well is likely dry, we will coordinate with you and the water hauler to fill your onsite storage tanks while a long-term solution is pursued.
Santa Cruz County has a Well Sounding Program that private well owners can utilize. This process uses a sonic sounding device to determine where the water level is in your well. When compared to the total depth of the well, this can tell you how much water is currently available for use. Private wells that meet certain criteria can also enroll in biannual measurements of their well. This not only provides you with valuable water level trend information, but it also helps the county gain a better understanding of how groundwater levels are changing throughout the county. Please note, not every well has the access port required for a reading. Before scheduling an appointment, please confirm your well has an access port similar to the images below
Changes in groundwater levels caused by extreme drought or flooding can affect the quality of the water in your well. If you have reason to believe your well has water quality concerns, you can have your water tested for free using the State Waterboards free well testing program: Free Well Testing. You can also request testing from the Santa Cruz County Water Quality Lab or one of these private laboratories. Water Testing Laboratories (scceh.org).
If testing reveals that your water source has an exceedance of certain contaminants, you may be eligible for a free Point-Of-Use (POU) treatment system. These systems are often located at the kitchen sink to provide a source of treated water in the household, without the cost of providing treatment to the whole home. These units are very effective and can treat a wide range of contaminants. County staff are currently working to make free POU units, including the full cost of the installation, available to income limited County residents.
Santa Cruz County and California Department of Water Resources maintain a record of Well Completion Reports for many wells installed in the County. Well Completion Reports contain important construction details about a well, such as total depth, screening intervals, and the depth that water was first encountered. Residents interested in learning more about their well can find records on Santa Cruz County GISWeb and following the steps below
- Search for the parcel address or APN in the top left hand corner of the screen.
- On the left side of the screen, click on "Legend" to open up the layers list. Click the triangle next to "Water Resources" and check the box for “Wells”. If there is a well in our records, it should now be visible on your selected parcel.
- Just below the parcel search bar, select the blue “i” to “get visible layer information”.
- Clicking on the well will now open a table with information about that well. If available, a link to the Well Completion Report will be located at the top of the table.
If no well information is available on the County GIS page, you may be able to find a record using the CA DWR Well Completion Report Map.
How Can You Help Your Domestic Well?
There are many actions that you can take right now to help your domestic well adapt to Climate Change.
The first, and most important, action is to familiarize yourself with your well components. Gathering essential information such as the total well depth, how deep the well pump is, and the maximum flow rate will help you establish what the limits of your system are. While you are gathering this information, it is highly recommended that you maintain any technical documents and a photo catalog of your water system components. In the event of wildfire, or similar disaster, this documentation can be used when filing insurance claims or requesting assistance from FEMA. For more information on who is eligible for FEMA assistance and when, please visit the FEMA webpage here: Individuals and Households Program | FEMA.gov
To apply for FEMA assistance, please visit: https://www.disasterassistance.gov/
Once you are familiar with your well components, make sure that everything is in good condition and protected from potential disasters. Every component of your water system should be sealed to prevent contaminants from entering your water supply. The most common areas for this to occur are around your well head and storage tanks. These components contain openings for electrical conduits, water pipes, and air vents, which all create opportunites for debris, insects and even small animals to enter your water supply. For more information on private well maintenance, California has created A Guide for Private Domestic Well Owners
It is also important to review the areas around your water system in order to protect against wildfire and flood risks. For wildfires, complete the home hardening tasks decribed in the CalFire webpage, Hardening Your Home, for your water system components. For floodrisk, observe the area around your wellhead and confirm it is not located in an area that may have localized flooding. If possible, grade the area to allow water to flow away from your wellhead and install a concrete wellpad that is 18" above grade. Flooding around your wellhead is a serious risk to water quality and should be managed as described in this guidance document: Flooded Well Guidance.
Once you confirm the condition of your well, your next step will be to reduce the demand on it by conserving water as much as is possible. Every gallon of water that is extracted by your well not only costs money in electricty and equipment wear, but also draws from the limited supply of water in your aquifer. A household that has a lower baseline water use will be able to last longer in drought conditions than a household that does not conserve water. The Water Conservation Coalition of Santa Cruz County provides many helpful tips that can help homeowners use water more efficiently and identify leaks: According to the US EPA, approximately 1 in 10 households has a leak that is wasting 90 gallons per day or more! More information can also be found at Save Our Water California.
A key aspect of conserving water is being able to measure your usage and, unlike municipal water system customers, private well owners often have no meter to measure their water use. One of the most important steps you can take to conserve water is to install a meter on your well. Without the ability to measure water use regularly, it is much more difficult to detect the changes caused by a leak. A leaking toilet or irrigation system, for instance, can run unnoticed for long periods of time, potentially wasting thousands of gallons.
When an emergency does happen, you should know where to look for information. The Santa Cruz County Office of Response, Recovery & Resilience provides resources for a variety of potential disasters: SCC OR3 Resources (santacruzcounty.us). In addition to OR3, the following resources can also be useful tools to prepare for and respond to emergencies:
- Spread the word! If you know someone with a well that may be interested in this information, please send them a link to this webpage. www.scceh.com/NewHome/Programs/WaterResources/DroughtResponse/DroughtPreparednessPrivateWells.aspx
- If you would like to notified when program updates happen, sign up for a our mailing list
- Upcoming outreach events calendar will be posted here, so stay tuned!
On December 13, 2022, the Board of Supervisors approved the Drought Response and Outreach Plan (DROP), which is intended to facilitate drought and water shortage preparedness for state small water systems and domestic wells within the Santa Cruz County’s jurisdiction. This plan was created in response to Senate Bill (SB) 552. More information about the SB 552 and DROP creation process can be found here.