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Desal Plant Looking at $9 Million in Newly Discovered Hurdles to Completion

The saga continues for the revival of the city of Santa Barbara’s desalination plant.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, city staff reviewed additional hurdles to completing the plant’s construction — along with the $9 million price tag needed to resolve them.

The facility, located at 525 E. Yanonali St., is expected to produce 3 million gallons of water every day, accounting for about a third of the city’s potable water supply.

It will be a crucial component of Santa Barbara’s water portfolio as the state's record drought continues to dry up local resources.

City principal civil engineer Linda Sumansky said potable water production is now expected to start between mid-March and mid-April.

The desalination plant was built almost 30 years ago, and the City Council voted in 2015 to reactivate it. Various testing of its facilities is underway.

The project, which had a contract completion date was Oct. 4, has already seen significant delays, in part due to the discovery of contaminated soil at the facility site.

Many of plant’s original parts require replacement after testing revealed problems, Sumansky said.

Its power and communications conduits were found to be tangled or not long enough for the stretch between the seawater intake point and land.

Holes and cracking were found in key fittings for the intake pipeline, and valves onshore were found to be broken or damaged in places. The product water line at the facility could not hold pressure when tested.

Additional contaminated soils were found at the Padre Pump Station at 310 W. Padre St., which will provide the force needed to get the desalinated water from sea level out to the further reaches of the city’s distribution area.

City water resources manager Joshua Haggmark said that the plant originally was constructed in the early 1990s with haste and urgency.

Record drawings and documents by the original contractor don’t match the exact construction of the physical facility, he said, ultimately leading to the recent discoveries and the new appropriations needed to remedy them.

“For probably the sake of time, they did not do a lot of things that they said they were going to do on the drawings, and now we are kind of paying that price,” he said.

The city’s process nowadays for reviewing documentation is much more formal and meticulous, he told the council.

“These issues were not something that could have been reasonably known or tested prior to an award of contract,” he said.

The total projected costs — which include paying the contractor, Carollo, for its extended work — are just over $9.5 million, Sumansky said, bringing the total construction cost to $60.9 million.

Two previous change orders totaled about $6 million.

All told, the entire project, which includes other elements such as design and permitting, is estimated to cost just over $70 million, she said.

Changes to the timing, sequence and method of instrument and equipment preparation and testing will accelerate the timeline, Sumansky added.

“Depending on how the actual operating start-up goes, we hope that we will have water into the distribution system sometime between mid-March and mid-April,” she said. “It has really a lot to do with how fast the media (filter) conditions itself — and it’s kind of an unknown.”

The project’s primary source of funding is a $55 million state loan.

Haggmark said the city is working with the state to increase that amount. The city’s water fund reserve will back up that loan, he said.

Councilmen Jason Dominguez and Frank Hotchkiss expressed concern over the size of the project's unforeseen new costs and whether the issues could have been addressed earlier on.

Hotchkiss floated the idea of having a third party review the numbers the city and Carollo negotiated to make sure the work is being done in the most cost-effective way.

When asked by Dominguez whether a new contractor could finish the job for a deal more favorable to the city, Haggmark said the delays from the subsequent bidding process to find and bring on a new contractor would negate any benefits.  

The council ultimately voted 6-1, with Dominguez dissenting, to approve the new funds.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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.

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