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Funds Approved for Engineering Work on Cachuma Permanent Pipeline

Proposal calls for building conduit to bypass Lake Cachuma, at estimated $6.67 million cost

The Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board voted on Monday to fund the initial engineering work on a permanent pipeline project for the reservoir, which would replace a temporary pipeline, above. Click to view larger
The Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board voted on Monday to fund the initial engineering work on a permanent pipeline project for the reservoir, which would replace a temporary pipeline, above. (Santa Barbara County Public Works Department photo)

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The Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board voted on Monday to fund the initial engineering work on a permanent pipeline project for the reservoir, even though water agency officials haven’t settled on a project description yet.

Lake Cachuma, the major water source for Santa Barbara County's South Coast, will reach its “minimum pool” and be virtually empty by the end of December, according to authorities.

At that point, the only supplies being delivered to the South Coast through Cachuma will be the water being pumped in by the Central Coast Water Authority pipeline.

Purchased supplemental and State Water Project water comes in through the pipe, which is located near Bradbury Dam on the western end of the lake.

Lake levels are so low that a floating pumping barge was built as an emergency facility, to get water into the Tecolote Tunnel intake tower (on the eastern end of the lake), which delivers water through the Santa Ynez Mountains to the South Coast.

Since April 2015, officials have talked about building a pipeline to bypass the reservoir. The CCWA recently formed a steering committee and COMB was given the lead for the project.

The existing water intake tower at Lake Cachuma, which connects to the Tecolote Tunnel for transport to the South Coast, might be bypassed under a proposal to build a permanent pipeline. Click to view larger
The existing water intake tower at Lake Cachuma, which connects to the Tecolote Tunnel for transport to the South Coast, might be bypassed under a proposal to build a permanent pipeline. (Santa Barbara County Public Works Department photo)

The COMB members heard a proposal from HDR Engineering, Inc. on Monday to start engineering work for two sections of 36-inch permanent pipeline that are intended to stay in place for the next 50 years, since more droughts are expected in the future.

One pipeline section would replace the temporary pipeline from the Tecolote Tunnel intake tower to the pumping barge, and another from the pumping barge to the CCWA pipe near the Bradbury Dam.

It would make South Coast water deliveries more reliable and reduce evaporation from State Water Project deliveries, said Dan Ellison, project manager for HDR, the firm COMB used for the emergency pumping facility project.

HDR estimated the construction could be completed in October 2017, even though it’s unclear how long the permitting process would take.

Removing the floating pipes “eliminates a major eyesore and impediment to boaters and fishermen,” the firm wrote in its proposal.

Purchased supplemental and State Water Project water flows into Lake Cachuma, which officials expect to be dry by December. Click to view larger
Purchased supplemental and State Water Project water flows into Lake Cachuma, which officials expect to be dry by December. (Santa Barbara County Public Works Department photo)

The estimated cost is $6.67 million, and COMB general manager Janet Gingras said the agency is pursuing grant funding but there is less money available than originally thought, and it's uncertain whether the grants will be awarded.

COMB members voted 3-1, with Lauren Hanson dissenting and Kevin Walsh absent, to fund the $108,048 professional-services agreement for initial engineering analysis.

Hanson, of the Goleta Water District, was concerned that there was no accounting of how the project proposal got seemingly finalized, since COMB discussed several alternative projects at its September meeting.

COMB staff said it was an evolving project, and that the project description has changed almost weekly in recent months.

The HDR proposal also didn’t mention what was proposed for the existing pumping barge, which is owned and operated by Cushman Contracting Corp., for a cost.

When asked about the proposed permanent pipeline connection with the intake tower, Ellison said it could be bypassed and the pipe could connect directly to Tecolote Tunnel, saying that the tower was vulnerable to earthquakes.

It’s 60 years old and “pretty much guaranteed not to meet current seismic standards,” he said.

No intake tower evaluation or stabilization effort is part of the proposed permanent pipeline project, and Hanson asked staff to bring back the matter at a future meeting.

Polly Holcombe of the Carpinteria Valley Water District agreed with Hanson that more information needed to be presented to the board before the project was finalized, but voted to approve the contract.

She said the preliminary engineering work would need to be done regardless of which project proposal COMB pursues, calling it a discovery phase. 

Bendy White of Santa Barbara and Doug Morgan of the Montecito Water District also voted to fund the agreement.

“I don’t want to lose time,” said White, adding that he wanted to stay on the proposed schedule that HDR had presented.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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