Wednesday, October 17 , 2018, 1:53 am | Fair 57º


Santa Barbara Adopts Lawn-Watering Moratorium to Boost Conservation During Drought

City also narrowly approved an agreement with the county for the development of the Tajiguas Landfill Resource Recovery Project

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a lawn-watering moratorium as the city’s latest step to conserve water during the worst drought on state record. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a lawn-watering moratorium as the city’s latest step to conserve water during the worst drought on state record. (Noozhawk file photo)

For Santa Barbara, gold is now the new green.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Santa Barbara City Council unanimously adopted a lawn-watering moratorium as the city’s latest step to conserve water during the worst drought on state record.

Subject to a number of exceptions, turf lawns cannot be irrigated with potable water starting Jan. 1.

Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark told the council that for this year, the city has seen 75 percent of the rainfall it normally should, and calculated the 12-month running average for conservation in the city to be 33 percent.

The ban is intended to stave off a projected 300-acre-foot shortage of water in the city from August to October 2017 by bringing the city’s conservation rate up to 40 percent starting next month.

The ban, Haggmark has said, is expected to generate about 800 acre-feet of water savings, and that a complaint-driven enforcement plan has been a successful model in the city for addressing violations.

The residential, institutional and commercial sectors would each have their own exceptions to the rules.

Trees, shrubs, gardens and “water-wise” grasses are exempt, along with fields used mainly for active recreation by schools and child-care centers.

In the commercial sector, grass directly related to business activities, like ceremonial event spaces, would be exempt after an application process.

Recycled water would be required for construction work, and golf greens and tees would also be exempt.

“If it doesn’t rain, thank goodness that we have the turf ban because we need the water,” said Mayor Helene Schneider. “And if it does rain, then you don’t need to water your lawn anyway. So it makes a whole lot of sense and is very prudent for us to do.”

With the lawn-watering moratorium, city water revenues for fiscal year 2017 are projected to drop to $40.9 million from $42.5 million, Haggmark said.

Though the prohibitions can be adjusted if winter is generous with its precipitation, he noted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting below-average rainfall in the coming months.

Santa Barbara is projected later this month to use up the last of its water allocation from Lake Cachuma, which has been a primary source of water for the South Coast.

From there, Haggmark said, the only water flowing into the reservoir will be imported from elsewhere in the state.

This month, testing of the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant is expected to begin, with water delivery projected to begin sometime between mid-February and late March, Haggmark said.

A much more divided council also approved an agreement with the county for the development and operation of a massive project to sort trash at the Tajiguas Landfill on the Gaviota Coast.

That vote was 4-3, with Schneider and councilmen Jason Dominguez and Bendy White dissenting.

Though the county is financing the undertaking, the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Solvang and Buellton have also been helping to hammer out the project.

As state pollution standards tighten, the Resource Recover Project is intended to divert more incoming waste from the landfill, lengthening Tajiguas’ currently 10-year lifespan along the way.

The RRP will have two facilities: One will sort recyclables and organic waste from all trash arriving at the landfill, and the other will convert organic waste into compostable materials and biogas, the latter of which will be used to generate electricity.

Thirty percent of waste processed in the materials recovery facility would continue into the organic waste digester facility, another 30 percent will emerge as recyclables, and the other 40 percent will end up in the landfill itself, according to the city.

The facilities are expected to extend Tajiguas’ lifespan by 12 years.

In July, county officials approved a contract with MSB Investors LLC to design, build and operate the facilities on the site of the landfill.

In the 20-year agreement drawn up with the county, Santa Barbara would be expected to contribute 75,297 tons of waste each year to the planned facilities, said city environmental services manager Matt Fore.

The city’s share of operating costs would be covered through a tipping fee — a charge levied on each ton of waste arriving at a landfill — that would be assessed through MarBorg’s customer rates.

The current tipping fee for Tajiguas, without any additional sorting or recovery of recyclables, is $87 per ton, Fore said, and would gradually ramp up over the next few years to approximately $118 per ton.

In February, the county is expected to present MSB Investors with a notice to proceed. The facilities are expected to be operational in the spring of 2019.

The council collectively expressed disappointment over the fact that the project meant extending the lifespan of such a development on the Gaviota Coast, but the majority argued it represented the best option for decreasing the amount of waste going to landfill and avoided trucking waste to another, further-off disposal site.

Schneider, Dominguez and White’s primary objection, echoed over the years by environmentally minded public commenters, is that the project represents the continued industrialization of the Gaviota Coast.

They said the new facilities’ long lifespan would make walking away from such an expensive, long-term investment a difficult task for future officials, even when more environmentally sustainable options present themselves and the landfill itself reaches its lifespan.

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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