Monday, August 20 , 2018, 10:20 am | Overcast with Haze 68º


Local News

Santa Barbara’s Desalination Plant Gets OK From Regional Water Quality Control Board

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant got permit approval from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board last week, a major regulatory step for the seawater-to-potable facility.

The Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant has been mothballed since the 1990s, and the city is working to reactivate the facility as part of its long-term water-supply plan.

This permit approval deals with the facility’s discharge into the ocean, which is mixed with wastewater and sent out the same outfall pipe, and the seawater intake.

“It secures our ability to use our screened open ocean intake for the foreseeable future,” interim water resources manager Joshua Haggmark told the City Council on Tuesday.

The city offered three conditions that were then made mandatory by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Mayor Helene Schneider added.

Council members already had asked city staff to study sub-surface intake structures, and now staff will make a presentation on the findings to the water board by July 2017.

The city also agreed to donate $500,000 for a restoration project at the Devereux Slough and use a wedge wire screen on the intake structure, which has 1-millimeter-sized holes, Schneider said.

Santa Barbara renews its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit every five years, including the brine discharge from the desalination plant.

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board found that Santa Barbara’s plant was “existing,” so it doesn’t have to study alternative intake structures before operation – the city offered to do it, but it’s not a condition of the permit, Haggmark said.

The type of intake structure is often the most controversial part of desalination facilities, due to the potential environmental impacts on marine life.

“As was noted at the (Water Control Board) meeting, the city is still interested in studying alternatives to our screen open-ocean intake, but it is not reasonable to do so if we need desalination to address this drought,” Haggmark said.

Proposals to design, build and operate the desalination plant are due in March, and the city could hear back about getting a state revolving loan in May.

In the regulatory process, the next step is the California Coastal Commission.

It has accepted the 1996 permit to operate the desalination plant, but will be discussing a maintenance and repair permit at next week’s meeting. That permit has to do with resetting the screens and pumps in the ocean and doing maintenance on those screens, Haggmark said.

“This is not a reopener for conditions or approval of our desal plant or the type of intake that we have,” he said.

Coastal Commissioners meet in Pismo Beach next week and will discuss this permit on Feb. 13.

The City Council got an update on the water supply outlook Tuesday as well, hearing that three groundwater wells are back to high production, and the city is pursuing supplemental water purchases.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting above-average rainfall for the next three months, which is a “glimmer of hope” during the drought, Haggmark told the council Tuesday.

Santa Barbara residents have also been conserving water better than expected, with 23-percent cuts for the period of July to December.

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.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >