Saturday, October 10 , 2015, 3:28 am | Fog/Mist 68º

Santa Barbara Declares Drought; Montecito Water District Approves Mandatory Restrictions

The conditions take effect immediately and require customers to cut back 30 percent; the water district is also considering a ration plan

Santa Barbara Councilman Bendy White, center, served on the city’s Water Commission during the last big drought and says he is “extremely worried.” He asked staff on Tuesday about the timeline for restarting the desalination facility and bringing back a block rate structure for water billing.
Santa Barbara Councilman Bendy White, center, served on the city’s Water Commission during the last big drought and says he is “extremely worried.” He asked staff on Tuesday about the timeline for restarting the desalination facility and bringing back a block rate structure for water billing.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

At the same time Santa Barbara declared a drought on Tuesday, the Montecito Water District approved mandatory restrictions for water use.

The neighboring communities are in very different places in terms of water supplies. Santa Barbara is asking people to reduce water use by 20 percent and focusing on conservation outreach. Meanwhile, Montecito’s Board of Directors approved a series of restrictions for water users.

The huge crowd that gathered for the Montecito Water District's public hearing on Tuesday questioned why the district waited until now to take this action. General Manager Tom Mosby said the district will run out of water by July if water usage stays the same.

“It’s unsettling,” he said.

It was a full house at Tuesday’s meeting, helped by the district’s presentation to the Montecito Association last week.

“There are some who believe we should have taken this action much sooner due to the dire condition of our water supply,” Mosby said.

The district is already considering a ration plan designating an amount of water per customer, and Mosby said the board will talk about it more at a special Wednesday meeting.

Customers are using more water than usual this winter to compensate for the lack of rain, and the supplies are being quickly depleted. The mandatory restrictions aim to reduce total usage by 30 percent and take effect immediately. People are not allowed to water yards in the middle of the day, drain and refill swimming pools, or serve water in a restaurant without the customer asking for it.

Ordinance 92 allows one written warning for violations and then a $250 fine, which doubles with every new violation up to a maximum of $1,000. Appeals can be filed with the district's Board of Directors.

District staff members also have authority to install flow restrictors on service lines of customers who are not complying. The penalties will fund conservation outreach and, if needed, water purchases.

Water district staff working in the community will enforce the ordinance for all customers, Mosby said.

Montecito is working with the same water broker as Santa Barbara — Eric Robbins of Sierra Water Workgroup — to find water for sale. Even with the restrictions, the district is pushing conservation and will work one-on-one with its customers to help people cut back their use voluntarily, Mosby said.

Scroll down to read all of the restrictions in the adopted ordinance.

Santa Barbara is better off, but leaders are getting nervous since the city’s in its third consecutive dry year.

The Water Resources Department is working with a broker to find water for sale, and the City Council on Tuesday approved $3.3 million in funding for additional water. It also increased the contract amount for a water rights legal firm, Bartkiewicz, Kronick & Shanahan.

There’s concern that water won’t be able to be moved through the Delta after summer, which is why water north of there is less expensive but more risky, city staff said. Getting water from Lake Cachuma will be harder once the lake levels sink even more, which is why the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board is considering an emergency pumping project.

Carryover water — unused water from previous years that’s being stored elsewhere, such as San Luis Reservoir — is being piped to Santa Barbara now and should arrive by July, water resources acting manager Joshua Haggmark said. 

The city is also draining Gibraltar Reservoir and will drill wells in the silt to get additional water out of it.

About half of the city’s water use is from landscaping, according to conservation supervisor Alison Jordan. She said that while a five-minute shower uses 10 gallons of water, just 15 minutes of watering a lawn uses 700 gallons.

Automatic irrigation systems and leaks are the biggest water waters in the city, so people should manually water as much as possible, she said.

If there are no State Water Project deliveries next year again — and no rainfall, the city assumes it will have a 20 percent shortage in 2015. Jordan said there is serious consideration about reactivating the desalination plant as well, though the process would take about two years and $20 million.

Some council members are more eager, while others are cautious to take on such an expensive project before absolutely necessary.

“We need to have eyes wide open when we get to that point,” Mayor Helene Schneider said.

The Montecito Water District wants to get in on the desalination facility and could contribute to the startup money, Councilman Gregg Hart said.

The city will be boosting conservation efforts and encourages all residents to get tips by clicking here.

Most of the city’s parks and school lawns are watered with recycled water now, but the facility is going offline for 14 months, Haggmark told the council on Tuesday. An upgrade project goes to bid in March, which is bad timing, but the filters are so deteriorated that the city has to add clean water to the output to make it meet standards, he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Montecito Water District Ordinance 92 for water shortage emergency

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