Amid the detachment debate between the city of Goleta and the Goleta West Sanitary District, millions of dollars are being saved or borrowed by multiple jurisdictions to fund the $50 million Goleta Sanitary District wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

The Goleta Sanitary District was recently approved for a state revolving-fund loan, and will borrow up to $20 million for its share of the project, said general manager and district engineer Kamil Azoury.

An upgrade has been in the works since 2004, when the district entered into a settlement agreement with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Review Board, based in San Luis Obispo.

On average, the plant processes 5 million to 6 million gallons of raw sewage each day, with a capacity of 9 million gallons a day (measured in dry weather). What flows out of homes and businesses into the sanitary district’s plant is, on average, about 5.5 million gallons of raw sewage every day. The plant recycles about 1.5 million gallons of water per day, but has the capacity to recycle 3 million gallons daily. Recycled water, used for irrigation and landscaping, goes through three stages of treatment.

Currently, all incoming flow is treated in the primary stage and 70 percent of that is treated in the secondary stage. Flow that’s discharged into the ocean is “blended” — a mix of primary-treated and secondary-treated effluent.

Water that will be recycled for landscaping purposes — at UCSB and local golf courses — goes through the tertiary stage.

In accordance with the agreement with the water quality review board, all discharged water will go through the secondary stage of treatment after the upgrade, Azoury said. The estimated cost for the project is $50 million.

The treatment plant at 1 William Moffett Place serves the entire Goleta Valley, from the Santa Barbara city limit to the east to the Embarcadero Municipal Improvement District to the west. The Goleta Sanitary District owns and operates the treatment complex, but other entities have entitlement of usage.

Goleta West, UCSB, the city of Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara Airport) and Santa Barbara County (the jail and parks) all use the plant, and therefore have to pay their share of the upgrade costs.

Goleta Sanitary District general manager Kamil Azoury says the $50 million wastewater treatment facilities upgrade is expected to have a 30-year lifespan, with maintenance, repairs and contingencies for new environmental requirements.

Goleta Sanitary District general manager Kamil Azoury says the $50 million wastewater treatment facilities upgrade is expected to have a 30-year lifespan, with maintenance, repairs and contingencies for new environmental requirements. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The Goleta Sanitary District is paying its portion partly in cash — about $5 million to $6 million — from reserves, but mostly from the loan.

The loan is “very attractive” because of its 3 percent interest rate and conditions, Azoury told Noozhawk. Unlike commercial loans, there are no broker or consultant fees included.

With its cash contribution, the district will probably borrow less than $20 million, which will be paid off over 15 to 20 years, Azoury said.

“The time we’ll know (the real amount) is when we get bids,” he said.

The Goleta Sanitary District is the largest user of the plant, at 47.87 percent (which amounts to a contribution of $23.935 million if the project costs $50 million total).

When the district applied for the loan, the same application was used to request federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Rehabilitation Act, Azoury said.

While he doubts the district will get the funds, officials are working hard to get the project “shovel ready.” Stimulus funds are intended for projects that can go straight to construction.

“It’s not money given to someone that they can sit on,” he said.

The district is in the process of obtaining the necessary permits from the county Planning Department, the county Air Pollution Control District and the state Coastal Commission.

Other entities that use the plant will pay by percentage of their entitlement of usage. The actual dollar amounts will be determined once the project gets a final price tag when it goes out to bid.

UCSB uses 7.09 percent, which amounts to $3.545 million for the upgrade.

The city of Santa Barbara, which includes the airport and surrounding commercial areas, has an entitlement for usage of about 2.84 percent and will contribute about $1.42 million.

The county, including the jail and some parks, uses 1.42 percent, which amounts to a $710,000 contribution.

The Goleta West Sanitary District, which serves Isla Vista, EMID and other areas, is the second largest user, at 40.78 percent, which amounts to a contribution of $20.39 million.

All other entities have said they’ll pay out of the cash they have, Azoury said.

Indeed, a big question in the Goleta West detachment debate is who will be writing that $20 million check to GSD.

Goleta wants to discontinue using Goleta West for sanitary services within its city limits, a decision that will be decided by the Local Agency Formation Commission, most likely next year.

The majority of Goleta West’s reserves — which come from property taxes and fees — could be taken by the city of Goleta. LAFCO will decide the allocation of reserves if the city’s detachment application is approved.

Throughout the debate, the Goleta Sanitary District has reiterated to LAFCO and Goleta that the bulk of the Goleta West Sanitary District’s reserves are spoken for, Azoury said.

“We have made it clear to everybody we are looking at that $20 million they have to pay,” he said.

Goleta West’s $29 million in reserves were saved in anticipation of its share of the upgrade funding and other capital projects, district general manager Mark Nation said after a recent Goleta City Council meeting.

Both districts have indicated that user fees will increase in the near future.

The Goleta Sanitary District will implement fees of $11.33 per month per home in mid-2010 to 2013, said Azoury, explaining that they are earmarked to help fund the treatment plant upgrade.

The treatment plant upgrade will likely go to bid in February.

Although it will, of course, require maintenance and repairs, the upgraded facility should last at least 30 years, Azoury said. There is also foresight build into the process, he said, since the Environmental Protection Agency could change the laws at any time.

Project Timeline
1951 – Goleta Sanitary District treatment plant opens
1954 – Goleta West Sanitary District created as the Isla Vista Sanitary District
1965 – GSD constructed mile-long ocean outfall pipeline and expanded treatment plant and system
1988 – Upgrade to treatment plant
1990 – Isla Vista Sanitary District changed its name to Goleta West Sanitary District
2004 – GSD settlement agreement with Regional Water Quality Control Board to be functional at secondary treatment by the end of 2014
2005 – Planning begins for plant upgrade

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at