DAVENPORT, Calif. - UPDATE 7/6/2017 5:10 p.m.:
Santa Cruz County officials call it a health and public safety crisis – A coastal community is on the verge of losing its drinking water.
Davenport’s main water line was damaged during the winter storms. The 400 or so residents in this town, also popular with tourists, have been using a secondary source, but the water coming from Mill Creek may not last much longer.
"The main water line to this community was broken in a February storm,” Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said. “They've been on a secondary source which is a creek but that creek runs dry and so we've been in a race against time to repair the water line before we have to start trucking in water to this community, which is both expensive and an inconvenience."
But who is responsible for the $220,000 repairs? Santa Cruz County officials said the water pipes are on the CEMEX property, and the company has been unwilling to help, which has forced the county to make emergency repairs. The CEMEX cement plant in Davenport shut down in 2010.
"They own this water infrastructure, it was broken,” Coonerty said. “They knew that it could create an impact on the community and they refuse to fix it. The county's finally stepping in to fix it but now they refuse to pay for it, which puts a huge cost on a federally designated low-income community when they're a multi-billion dollar corporation. They need to step up and do the right thing."
The county even suggested pursuing legal action against the Texas-based company. CEMEX refuted the accusations in a statement provided to KION.
"CEMEX works to be a good neighbor in communities surrounding our facilities, even in situations where our plants have ceased operations. It is disappointing that Santa Cruz County officials are suggesting anything less in Davenport. The City of Davenport developed around the cement plant when it was established more than 100 years ago, and the plant was the original water source for the community.
CEMEX closed the Davenport plant in 2010, and since then continued to make water available to the County water treatment facility at no cost to the County. The damage to the main water line that was caused by major storms earlier this year did not occur on CEMEX property. CEMEX did discuss the issues caused by the storm damage with County staff and sent a letter to Santa Cruz County leaders in May offering them access so the County could make the repairs the County deemed necessary. The attempt to cast this as CEMEX cutting off water supplies is disappointing.
CEMEX recognizes the importance of a reliable water supply and continues to make water available to Davenport through a backup line.”
But it may ultimately fall on the residents, who say they already pay some of the highest rates in the country.
"You go in your house, you turn on the water, the water comes out,” longtime resident Annie Parker said. “We take that for granted, all of us do. And I think we should be able to take it for granted and with this situation, for that to continue to happen, we may have to pay a lot of money. Our water and sewer are among the highest in the country, it's almost $4,000 a year."
A Central Coast town is at risk of losing access to water. Davenport's main source of water was damaged in winter storms and the county says they can't get its owners to pay for repairs.
The County says CEMEX owns the water line and has not been willing to make the repairs.
Davenport has a temporary water source for now but, the county says, not for long and that has people and businesses concerned.
"A lack of water would shut us down basically," said Davenport business owner Stephanie Raugust. "Water is our vital source."
CEMEX stopped operating in Davenport but a Santa Cruz County representative says they're still responsible for repairs. Still, the county hasn't been able to get CEMEX to agree.
For now Davenport is relying on water from a creek the county says will dry up by the end of the summer.
Even though it's a small town, restaurant owner Stephanie Raugust says it could impact many more.
"We're a small community but we service much more than what the sign [coming into town] says. The 400 hundred people are 4,000 on a daily basis," Raugust said.
She and her family have owned their Davenport business for more than 30 years. She says the amount of money they spend on their water is significant.
"Over the years, water and water regulatory systems have had to be improved which has made our water pretty expensive," Raugust said. "It seems odd that the source wouldn't be protected and worked on."
She says in the 35 years they've been in business, they've seen Davenport deal with other water issues but this is different.
"I was unaware that our source may dry up and that now, there's sort of an emergency feeling toward water use," Raugust said.
For now, all they can do is wait.
"Water is our life source so it's going to be a big issue," Raugust said. "I'm curious how that press conference will go."
KION will be at Thursday's press conference and will update this story.
We did reach out to a Cemex representative and are waiting to hear back.