Tuesday, November 13 , 2018, 2:53 pm | Fair 72º


Montecito Water District Suspends Work on Desalination Plant Project

The Montecito Water District is suspending planning work on its proposed desalination plant, instead putting all of its efforts into partnering with the city of Santa Barbara's facility.

Santa Barbara is reactivating its existing seawater-to-potable plant at a cost of $55 million, and water production will start next fall.

As local water supplies dwindle, Montecito is trying to partner with Santa Barbara to get a piece of the water production.  

“Desalination is essential for Montecito’s future,” General Manager Tom Mosby said.

Since Santa Barbara already has all the necessary permit approvals, it is hesitant to bring in a partner without written support from permitting agencies.

Montecito hopes to begin negotiations with Santa Barbara after it receives letters of support for a regional facility from the California Coastal Commission and Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Montecito has been simultaneously looking into building its own desalination plant, but the water board voted this week to suspend that work for 60 days.

The district can save money by not pulling the regulatory trigger for its own plant, although the suspension won’t affect the option to do it later, board member Charles Newman said.

The district is suspending all consultant work and negotiations with the Santa Barbara Cemetery Association to use the property for the desalination plant’s intake and discharge facilities.

Water board members also discussed the water availability charge that is used for capital improvement projects such as pipeline replacement.

It provides about $300,000 annually, which is a small fraction of total infrastructure funding.

Crews are currently replacing a 1,000-foot section of pipe on San Ysidro Road that was installed in 1923.

The line broke twice — with expensive repairs — in recent years, and the replacement project will cost about $200,000, according to the district.

Mosby said 20.6 percent of district pipes were installed before 1930, and the replacement projects are focused on those oldest pipes, many of which are made of cast iron.

The district planned on replacing two miles per year for five years, but the drought has slowed down those efforts, Mosby said.

There are no plans to raise the water availability charge, which is $30 per acre for parcels within the district boundaries, and any change would require a two-thirds majority vote. 

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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