Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 5:00 pm | Fair 70º


Santa Barbara Council Raises City’s Water Conservation Target to 35 Percent

Officials say the new goal will help secure the city’s water resources through 2018

The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to increase the city’s water conservation target from 25 percent to 35 percent.

“This is matching the current community conservation efforts,” said Joshua Haggmark, the city’s water resources manager. “This isn’t asking really for more; this is asking for more of the same.”

In his update to the council, Haggmark said the new 35 percent reduction goal, when combined with supplemental water purchases and the planned opening of a desalination plant this fall, will ensure the city will have “adequate” water supplies through 2018.

The new target was made as an amendment to the council’s previous Stage 3 drought declaration.

In February 2014, a Stage 1 drought was declared by the City Council, which raised it to Stage 2 three months later. Last May, it declared a Stage 3 drought, which triggered a water conservation target of 25 percent and new water-use regulations, such as requiring automatic shut-off nozzles on hoses and a ban on irrigation “within 48 hours after measurable rainfall.”

The community’s proficiency at saving water was credited with the council and city staff’s confidence in raising the target. Santa Barbara residents saved more than the city’s 20 percent conservation request while the drought was labeled Stage 1 and Stage 2, and has averaged 34 percent since the declaration of a Stage 3 drought prompted the mandatory 25 percent reduction goal.

City staff determined that in March the city saw a 40 percent reduction in water use.

“This just speaks volumes, I think, to where this community’s mindset has been about conservation and taking responsibility,” Haggmark said.

“The public has done a fabulous job absent punitive measures,” Councilman Randy Rowse said.

The important step now, he and Haggmark agreed, was to ensure that the public knew that the new conservation target was not asking more of the public, but simply for more of the same.

With the drought in its fifth year, the city has had to embrace a variety of avenues for either making its water last or acquiring more of it. In addition to the rising conservation targets, the city is increasing its groundwater production and purchasing supplemental water, and it plans to reactivate its desalination plant this fall, which will convert 3 million gallons of seawater a day into potable water.

In July, the council unanimously approved the plant’s revival, which will total $55 million in capital costs to reactivate and will produce roughly 30 percent of Santa Barbara’s water supply, according to the city.

One source of supplemental water is the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency, from which the city has bought a year’s worth of water. Per state regulations, Haggmark said, the city would have to eventually pay back an acre-foot of water for every two it receives from the AVEK.

With its water resources for the next 2½ years coming together, the council declined to adopt any new water-use restrictions, which would normally be triggered by shortages or interruptions to supply.

One issue of concern, however, were the water needs of planned and proposed development projects such as apartment complexes or commercial buildings. If all these projects are completed, they would add 40 acre-feet per year to the city’s water demand, according to city project planner Allison DeBusk, adding that the extra demand would be a normal amount given the last decade’s trend.

Though the council did not adopt any new regulations, potential restrictions to mitigate the extra demand include deferral of landscaping, suspension of permits for new swimming pools and suspension of all future permits for projects that would increase the city’s water demand.

As of Monday, Santa Barbara has received 67 percent of the average amount of rainfall it should have at this point in the water year, which runs from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, according to data from the county’s Public Works Department. Cachuma Lake, which provides a considerable portion of the water for the greater Santa Barbara area, is down to 14.7 percent capacity, according to the data.​

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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