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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 10:40 pm | Partly Cloudy 52º


Desalination, Recycled Water Hold Promise for Santa Barbara County Drought in Future

Members of the Board of Supervisors this week discussed how to deal with Santa Barbara County’s drought over the coming decades, with a recently conducted drought survey recommending expanding use of recycled water and exploring desalinization.

The supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to receive a report on the issue, and will be back next fall to measure progress.

They also voted to look into the feasibility of desalinization on a large scale, and to gauge interested from rate-payers.

A study was conducted by RMC Water and Environment to look at long-term alternatives for water sources in the region, including local reservoirs, groundwater, purchased water from outside districts and desalinization.

None of the ideas would likely be put into place in time to deal with the current drought, but would take into account future dry periods over the next two to three decades, said Tom Fayram of the county’s Water Resources Division.

The study focused on options that could provide large volumes of water at cost-effective rates, which were defined as less than $3,000 per acre-foot.

One of the high points was recycled water.

“Recycled water is providing a lot of promise for the future,” Fayram said.  

Extending non-potable water for irrigation is also on the table, as is desalinization. The city of Santa Barbara is working to bring its desalination plant online by fall 2016. 

The city is having discussions about cost-sharing the desal plant with the Montecito Water District, and Fayram said that desalinization could be looked at for regional use.

While Lake Cachuma is limited in storage options, Twitchell Reservoir also could provide some extra water, with some structural changes.

Using the reservoir’s flood control pool for extra storage could mean up to 80,000 acre-feet of water could be stored there for drought years, Fayram said.

Increasing storage at Cachuma could prove more difficult, as large scale reservoir dredging there is “extremely costly,” he said, noting that heavy equipment doesn’t work when it would likely sink into the mud of the lake bed.

This prompted Supervisor Peter Adam to recall some personal history.

“I rode a horse in a reservoir one time,” he mused. “It looks dry on top, but it’s not. We got out with some difficulty.”

That's the sentiment county officials are dealing with, because ideas that may make sense in theory are either too costly or impossible to implement on a practical level.

Fayram said the same rings true for dredging Cachuma.

“It sounds like a good idea unless you’re the one doing it or paying for it,” he said.

Adam also brought up concerns about using recycled water on vegetables, and cited recent outbreaks of E. Coli that have occurred in the state.

“This kind of agriculture, you can’t really take that kind of risk,” he said.

The supervisors also spoke about the twin tunnels that transport water from from the San Joaquin Delta.  

The current levee system is vulnerable to an earthquake, but some supervisors, including Adam, expressed concern about whether the new tunnels would be able to withstand a natural disaster.

Locally, the county could take steps to further encourage conservation, several supervisors said.

Supervisor Doreen Farr said that the county could encourage individual residences to use gray-water systems, adding that advertising streamlined planning and permitting processes could get the word out to more people.

“There’s a lot work that went into this, and a lot of work in front of us,” Fayram said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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