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

 
 
 
 

Local News

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.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >