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Local News

Goleta Water District Delves Into Details of Agreement

The Santa Ynez district and the South Coast water management agency, with which the GWD has a large stake, are close to striking a deal

While the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District 1 — better known as ID1 — seemed recalcitrant at last week’s meeting of the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, this week the agency quietly entered into a memorandum of understanding with COMB regarding a major construction project that it had refused to endorse.

Dubbed the Second Barrel project, COMB has touted the 8,200-foot-long section of pipeline as a key part of its partial revamp of the South Coast Conduit — the South Coast’s main water artery — and ID1’s vote on Cachuma’s board was needed for it to go ahead.

ID1 had taken issue with a jurisdictional transfer of a few fish habitat restoration projects it was involved with and refused to budge on Second Barrel — seemingly in retribution. It was enough for COMB representative and Santa Barbara City Councilman Das Williams — discouraged with the latest in a nearly yearlong series of complications to what had at first seemed like a straightforward plan by COMB to make needed repairs to the South Coast’s water delivery system — to call for a “divorce,” asking for ID1 to voluntarily remove itself from COMB.

This week, however, as the memorandum of understanding was offered to COMB, even the small document encountered trial — in the form of the Goleta Water District’s board of directors.

Goleta has the largest financial stake in COMB’s projects and operations, so the Goleta board spent more than two hours dissecting the letter, ensuring its district was legally protected from every word.

Last week, ID1 requested that COMB agree to a moratorium on all actions if it were to endorse the Second Barrel project, which COMB board members were reluctant to do. The MOU appeared to solve the problem.

“Sometimes it seems needlessly lawyerly,” member Lauren Hanson said as the revised document was read by Goleta’s board Wednesday. “No offense to any lawyers in the room.”

There was, of course, a contingent of attorneys present in the board room. Aside from Goleta’s general counsel, Fran Farina, and COMB’s attorney, Bill Hair, Goleta’s board president, Bill Rosen, is a retired attorney, as is Jack Ruskey, who attends most if not all Goleta Water District board meetings.

A few minor changes — with which Rosen and others on the board said better protected Goleta from contingency — were made to the memorandum of understanding.

COMB general manager Kate Rees, who said she didn’t expect such attention to detail regarding the MOU, was optimistic that with it in place, all five of COMB’s member units would support the $9 million Second Barrel project when it comes up for a vote Monday. All five members must approve actions costing more than $1 million.

“Best-case scenario, we could award the contract and a notice to proceed by the end of June — maybe the end of July,” said Rees, although she acknowledged that other deadlines had fallen by the wayside during the past eight months when member agencies were unable to reach consensus on financing of the project.

If and when it does get off the ground, the Second Barrel project will add a redundant 8,200-foot length of pipe from the outlet of the Tecolote Tunnel — the 6½-mile conduit that carries water through the Santa Ynez Mountains from Lake Cachuma to the South Coast — to Goleta’s Corona del Mar water treatment plant.

Rees and several other South Coast water managers are adamant that it will restore capacity to a water delivery system that has become crippled by aging components, a cause of increasing concern that supplying sufficient water during high demand periods will be an issue in the future.

It remains to be seen whether ID1 will accept the changes made to the memorandum of understanding. If it does, the Second Barrel issue will be resurrected for the second time in as many weeks at COMB’s meeting Monday.

Rees said further stalling the project would lead to a loss of now-guaranteed Proposition 50 matching funds from the state of California. Water officials from the city of Santa Barbara have even discussed the possibility of assuming the role of lead agency on the Second Barrel project to avoid losing the money, but only if the issue can’t be worked out among COMB’s member agencies.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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