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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 1:29 am | Fair 48º


Santa Barbara Desalination Plans Take Step Forward with Contract for Intake Feasibility Study

The City of Santa Barbara may sink as much as $2 million into a study of a desalination facility seawater intake structure that might never be used.

Last week, the City Council authorized a $343,925 contract with Walnut Creek-based Carollo Engineers to determine whether a subsurface intake structure was feasible for the seawater-to-potable-water plant.

Environmental groups have raised concerns about the existing plant’s open water intake pipe, suggesting it is harmful to marine life. Regulatory agencies made the feasibility study mandatory as part of the city’s desalination-related permits.

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant, when active, pumped seawater from the open ocean intake structure, located 2,500 feet offshore, and the waste was mixed with the discharge from El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant, located 8,720 feet offshore.

The 1996 permit is still valid so the city can put the facility back into operation with the open water intake structure, even if the studies recommend a subsurface intake instead, California Coastal Commission members pointed out.

Carollo Engineers, which did preliminary design work for restarting the desalination plant, will also look at potable water reuse during the three-phase study process. The work plan, the first step of the studies, will be presented to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board by the end of August.

Municipal staff will come back to the City Council for authorization of each new phase of the studies, water resources manager Joshua Haggmark said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The second phase is expected to cost about $700,000 and the third phase, when the engineering firm is to study specific alternatives for a subsurface intake, is expected to cost $1.1 million, according to the city.

When approving the contract, Councilman Bendy White said he hoped the city could learn whether there is some kind of “fatal flaw” in a subsurface intake system before big money is invested in pursuing it.

The city could invest $2 million to explore the question before anything is built, Councilman Randy Rowse said.

Contract funding will be covered by the state revolving loan for desalination-related projects, since these studies are required as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit issued by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Haggmark said.

Noozhawk news 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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