City of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California, United States

With 95% of its water supply coming from local surface water, and impacts of climate change becoming ever more present, the City of Santa Cruz faces significant water supply reliability challenges. Further complicating matters, while many cities can implement policies to encourage water conservation to reduce demand pressure, Santa Cruz residents’ per capita daily usage is already among the lowest in the country. Through its Water Supply Advisory Committee, the City adopted its master plan, with infrastructure investments designed to provide a secure water future.

In February 2020, the City hired Raftelis to conduct a water rate study to ensure its ability to fund the master plan. While always a politically difficult decision, the need for water rate increases became even more challenging as COVID-19 swept the globe and created significant economic challenges for the City’s ratepayers.

Raftelis’ Strategic Communications Services group collaborated closely with City’s public information office to implement a robust stakeholder engagement plan that relied heavily on digital and virtual participation. Using a built-from-scratch online engagement tool, and through a series of facilitated virtual stakeholder focus groups, valuable information was gathered that informed recommended changes to the rate structure. A complementary strategic communications campaign increased awareness of the value of water, the need for infrastructure investment, and shared information about anticipated impacts to customer bills. In the end, outreach and transparent communication made the politically difficult decision possible; City Council unanimously approved the recommended rate structure and water rate changes, ensuring that Santa Cruz’s residents will enjoy a secure water future.