Monday, March 19 , 2018, 4:17 am | Fair 41º


Local News

Santa Barbara Ordinance Committee Calls for Moratorium on Private Well Construction

With the city on track for a Stage 3 Drought designation in May, the Santa Barbara City Council soon will consider banning construction of wells on private property within city water district limits.

The council’s ordinance committee unanimously voted Tuesday to forward that decision on to the full council in the coming weeks.

The Public Works Department recommends officials amend city municipal code to place a moratorium on private well construction inside its service area while the area struggles through its fourth year of drought.

Without enough rain, city staff said a Stage 3 Drought was planned for next month, the highest level of drought response.

“Groundwater is a very important water resource for the city, particular during droughts, when our surface supplies are limited,” water supply analyst Kelley Dyer said.

Groundwater is also the city’s only available potable water supply if deliveries from the Santa Ynez River become disrupted.

An amended ordinance would prohibit construction or replacement of water supply production wells when a property is or “can feasibly be served” by the city’s water supply system, the boundaries of which overlie Storage Units I and III of Santa Barbara’s groundwater basis and portions of the Foothill basin.

In addition, staff suggests the City Council repeal a section of code Dyer called outdated, since it allowed a new well to be constructed without obtaining a permit in an emergency. 

The moratorium is expected to ensure water users adhere to conservation rules, prevent misuse of groundwater and to stop parallel use of groundwater and city water system supplies.

City Councilman Randy Rowse, chair of the committee, asked if there were any examples of those who could feasibly be served deciding not to tap into the city system.

Santa Barbara currently owns and operates water supply production wells in groundwater basins, with an extensive network of groundwater monitoring wells measuring water levels and water quality.

The city is the sole pumper from Storage Unit I, but there are other private water pumpers in Storage Unit III and the Foothill Basin.

“We’re not currently seeing a rush on groundwater permits,” Dyer said, adding the city hasn’t issued a permit the past few years and had granted only 10 or 15 the last 25 years.

She said other agencies have seen permit influxes after raising water rates, however, which Santa Barbara is set to do July 1.

City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss wondered how the city could enforce the ordinance, whether it violated private property rights and if a sunset clause should be added — something staff was against.

Dyer said well drillers would be notified as part of outreach, noting that well drilling was a very visible activity the city has an economic stake in.

“I believe this is a prudent move considering our drought situation,” City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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