Saturday, September 23 , 2017, 1:13 pm | Fair 68º


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Santa Barbara Moves Closer to Water Conservation Goals

Santa Barbara residents conserved more water in July, moving closer to the goal of reducing usage by 20 percent across the city.

The numbers from last month showed that people reduced their usage by 18 percent, according to Joshua Haggmark, the city's interim water resources manager.

"It's a time to celebrate," he told the City Council on Tuesday during its monthly drought update. "We are on the right track."

June saw a 15 percent reduction, so last month presented even more savings, which "is significantly going to help us. … If we can continue to sustain this type of conservation," Haggmark said.

The city is aiming to save 1,200 acre-feet of water, or about 391 million gallons, before Sept. 30 and has currently saved 500 acre-feet.

It's on track to conserve 600 acre feet in August and September, which should boost the total to 1,100 acre-feet saved by the end of September, just under the goal.

Because most of the city's water use comes from single-family residential users in the city, officials have focused on providing incentives for homeowners to fix leaks, use pool covers and stop irrigating their lawns.

Rate increases were also implemented July 1, and Haggmark said those rates should help encourage conservation.

The city received a bit of rain on Sunday — about a quarter-inch — but not enough to make a difference in the water outlook.

The city also has been working to secure water from other places, such as Vandenberg Air Force Base and other water districts across the state, which could bring in about 4,400 acre-feet, enough to cover the water needs of the city for next year, Haggmark said.

Lake Cachuma is still at 33 percent of its capacity, and much less is actually available for delivery because of water that has evaporated or goes to downstream water rights holders.

The city will get only 45 percent of its usual Cachuma allocation in 2015.

The recycled water treatment plant is expected to be online by next summer, and water crews are making repairs to groundwater wells and other improvements. 

If the City Council moves forward with the desalination plant, it would open in mid-2016, and if the next two winters are dry, the plant may need to increase capacity, Haggmark said.

"This isn't something that's going to end the drought for us," he said of the plant's production.

Conservation manager Madeline Ward said the city is conducting site visits at all Santa Barbara Unified School District schools to look for leaks and efficiency upgrades before classes begin later this month.

She also said the community has been "very active" in reporting water violations, with 450 calls coming in since February. The most common offenses have been sprinkler runoff and watering times during the middle of the day.

Residents are encouraged to send in photos and videos of violations, with an address and time, at the city's website.  

The city will also be hosting a Water Commission meeting at 3 p.m. Monday in the Council Chambers, focusing on what customers and businesses can do to save water. The meeting will also be televised.

Several council members chimed in on Tuesday, saying a 20 percent reduction is the least residents can do and that more aggressive actions may need to be taken.

Many cities across the state, like Montecito and the City of Santa Cruz, have started aggressive rationing programs, but Santa Barbara officials said they will come back before the council in September to discuss those options further if reductions are not enough.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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