After months of conflict between its various member agencies, the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board took a decisive step Monday afternoon toward beginning work on a major reliability project on the South Coast Conduit, the region’s main water artery.

The so-called second-barrel project — a redundant section of pipe to be built along the first 8,200 feet of the South Coast Conduit — was the first project on a list of improvements proposed by COMB last year, and was successfully bid on by contractors last fall.

But the Carpinteria Valley Water District, facing irate customers after rate increases last year, refused to support the project — first for financial reasons, then because its board contended that the project, in Goleta, would not directly benefit its customers.

Now that the financing for the project has been figured out — Carpinteria will not participate in funding the project, and the Montecito Water District will use cash instead of participating in a $16 million bond issue proposed by COMB — it appears poised to move forward as early as the end of this summer.

As water managers watched the last window of opportunity for second-barrel construction disappear last December, concern was expressed by COMB General Manager Kate Rees that low contractor prices available then, when the economy seemed to be at its lowest point, wouldn’t last. However, the economy hasn’t shown rapid recovery, brightening the outlook for low bids on the project this time around.

Bidding for the project — which will be reviewed by COMB and its engineering consultant, AECOM — will open May 18.

Although COMB has a regular board meeting on May 24, Rees said the board and COMB staff members need more time to review bids before deciding on a contractor. A special board meeting is scheduled for June 9 for further review of the issue.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at