While winter rains brought much needed relief across the Golden State, the small town of Davenport is on the brink of running dry. In California’s central Santa Cruz County, the small city has long been supplied by a 4-mile conduit that provides water from the San Vicente Creek to the town’s treatment facility.
Torrential rains and landslides that occurred earlier this year damaged the pipeline in two areas, forcing the town of Davenport to source their water from Mill Creek instead. Months after the damage, the pipe has yet to be repaired and Mill Creek is nearly dry. With no rain in the forecast, it will only be a matter of weeks before Davenport is expected to be out of water.
While the cost of repairing the pipeline is relatively small, just $220,000, no one wants to pay
for it, not the town or Cemex, a multinational Mexican cement company who owns the pipeline. For decades Cemex was a mainstay of Davenport’s economy, employing over 100 residents for years. In 2010, the plant shut its doors. The plant and its partial water rights to the San Vicente River are for sale for $7 million. Cemex claims they are not responsible for pipeline repairs, citing damages are not in portions of the pipeline on Cemex owned land. The residents of Davenport feel differently though. The small community of around 400 people is largely comprised of fixed income retirees, many of whom were once employed by Cemex.
In an area where citizens already pay some of the highest water bills in California, the town is concerned that these repair costs could further burden residents who are already paying bills that average $4,000 annually. Currently, there are emergency plans being made
to import water from surrounding areas; however, it seems that at this dire stage Santa Cruz
County will be forced to make the repairs. County Supervisor, Ryan Coonerty, insists that
Cemex will be held responsible. Coonerty said “They’re a multi-billion dollar company and they’re trying to put this cost onto a small, federally designated low income community. It’s just patently unfair and irresponsible.”
Considering the record amounts of rain that fell in this area of California in early 2017,
this is a situation residents never imagined occurring. Stephanie Raugust, member of a local
business family, feels the whole situation “defies logic in some ways, having this happen after
the drought ended. I feel like we have been kept in the dark.” Many residents were unaware of the seriousness of this situation until last week, when County Supervisor Coonerty finally held a news conference about the impending water shortage.
The situation facing the residents of Davenport illustrates the threat that failing infrastructure and poor governance pose to the achievement of water security. Broken pipes cut communities off from reliable water sources. Slow response times and a lack of transparency frustrates proactive responses that can prevent crises. Failing infrastructure and weak governance result in dry taps as much as a the lack of available water.