Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 4:13 pm | Fair 73º


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Santa Barbara Desal Plant Prepares for Activation as Talks to Share Water with Montecito Stall

Facility that will provide about a third of Santa Barbara’s potable supply could come online within a week

Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant could come online within a week, and begin sending potable water from the facility into the city’s distribution system. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant could come online within a week, and begin sending potable water from the facility into the city’s distribution system. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

After months of delays, Santa Barbara is preparing to flip the switch on its revamped Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant and send potable water from the facility into the city’s distribution system.

The plant will provide 3,125 acre-feet of water a year — or about a third of the city’s water supply needs — with the potential to eventually expand up to 10,000 acre-feet.

An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land at about a foot deep. A typical household uses around half of an acre-foot in a year.

“It’s so close — it could be any day,” said Kelley Dyer, the city’s water supply manager.

Major construction has finished, and seawater has been circulating through the Yanonali Street plant as workers fine-tune its components. The state permit to operate it came May 2.

Water resources manager Joshua Haggmark cautioned that all parts of the plant have to demonstrate that they’re meshing together perfectly before the plant can come online. The city and state also have to be comfortable with the desalinated water’s quality.

“The staff are very optimistic about getting operating,” he said. “But there are a lot of challenges. This is an incredibly complicated facility, and it has many different processes that all have to get along and be working uniformly.”

“It could happen next week that everything is working, but it could take longer,” he added.

Though the big day is approaching, negotiations have stalled between the city and the Montecito Water District, which has been looking to purchase 1,250 acre-feet a year of desal water under a long-term agreement.

Dyer said the two sides had developed good compromises and basic terms at the staff level, but the MWD board declined to pursue the next phase of negotiations and did not want to fund a new pipeline that would help convey desal water.

The city has since stopped planning for the pipeline, Dyer said.

The MWD board last discussed the project in March, and had concerns over the costs and financial contributions Santa Barbara wanted it to cover as well as the term of a deal.

Discussions were dropped in the wake of the powerful February storm that replenished South Coast water supplies. Montecito has also been preparing to purchase water-storage space in the Central Valley, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has green-lighted allocation of Lake Cachuma water.

But coming together on a desal deal is still very much on the table, Dyer said.

In the meantime, Santa Barbara is looking to purchase 2.4 acres of land a little ways southeast of the desal plant to ease overcrowded infrastructure at the nearby El Estero wastewater treatment plant.

Haggmark said the four contiguous parcels, which have a current asking price of $5 million, could potentially accommodate El Estero storage facilities, another anaerobic digester and potable reuse facilities, which the city wants to make part of its long-term supply plan.

He noted that paying for it would likely require a 3- to 4-percent fee increase in fiscal year 2019 that would last a few years.

Water officials acknowledged it was a steep price tag, but that land, especially in the city’s industrial zone, is hard to find, and that water and treatment facilities are only growing.

“Instead of trying to cram everything we need in the future into what we already own — it only makes sense to have the whole thing spread out near the other facilities,” said water commissioner Mike Kielborn.

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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