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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 9:47 pm | Fair 49º


With Santa Barbara and Montecito Talking Water Again, City Council Pipes Up with Connection Plan

Santa Barbara and Montecito are moving forward with a plan to share desalination water by 2020.

The City Council voted 5-1 to spend $313,242 on a design contract with Carollo Engineers for a pipe that would increase production capacity for up to 1,250 acre-feet per year for Montecito.

Mayor Cathy Murillo and Council members Eric Friedman, Gregg Hart, Randy Rowse and Kristen Sneddon voted for the deal, with Councilman Jason Dominguez in dissent. The council has one vacancy, pending the outcome of the June 5 election.

Dominguez said he wanted the Montecito Water District to agree to reimburse the city’s design costs if the agency later backed out of construction or other negotiations.

“I am worried about the history of the negotiations,” he said.

The rest of the council — and city staff — felt differently.

“We want to make sure we can operate in a regional matter,” said Rebecca Bjork, the city’s Public Works director. “The city believes strongly that regional planning for water supplies is in everyone’s best interest.

“Although we have borders and distinctions between our agencies, we really are one region. We share our water supplies. We share the risk of our water supplies, and we all function much better — as we saw during the recent emergencies — when we cooperate.”

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant was built in 1992 after a lengthy regional water shortage. The facility later was mothballed after heavy rains fell and the city decided that it didn’t need to proceed.

In 2014, while experiencing the worst drought in memory, city officials decided to relaunch the plant and, this time, Montecito wanted in. In March of last year, however, the Montecito Water District paused negotiations to evaluate other water options, before it hopped on board again in February.

The city and Montecito have not yet agreed on how much Montecito will be charged for the water.

Bjork said the water would be sold to Montecito at a cost that meets the city’s financial needs. The city likely would build the pipe anyway, but many years down the line. Montecito, however, needs the water supply now.

Hart said he is encouraged by the negotiations and the sharing of costs.

“Having us work together in a regional way is better for both communities,” he said. “It is better for the entire South Coast. We need to develop a water system that is more resilient for future events, that is focused on this side of the mountain, rather than the other side of the mountain.”

Hart said the connection to water from the Santa Ynez River is much more “tenuous.”

Murillo said she also supports the partnership with Montecito, despite some environmental concerns.

“I wish the desal plant didn’t use so much power, and there’s environmental impacts created by our intake system, and we wish we had a subsurface intake, but we are in a case where this is an independent water supply,” she said.

“We need this for our residents. You (Montecito) are coming to us for your residents.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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