The Montecito Sanitary District’s pilot project is producing recycled water at its headquarters, but it will be a while before any recycled water can be used for irrigation.

Engineering manager Carrie Poytress gave an update at the Nov. 5 joint meeting of the sanitary and Montecito Water District boards.  

The system was installed to test out the technology before building a larger-scale facility; It uses ultrafiltration and pulse reverse osmosis to treat the wastewater to a non-potable standard that can be used for landscape irrigation.

Poytress said the pulse reverse osmosis uses fewer chemicals and less energy than the traditional reverse osmosis systems.

The system produces about 15,000 gallons of recycled water a day now, which is not currently used for any irrigation or taken off site, district general manager Diane Gabriel said.  

Both the sanitary and water districts want to bring recycled water to Montecito, and they have to work together to do that. It’s in the early stages, and at the moment the boards disagree on language for a resolution talking about the pilot program.

The Montecito Water District board passed a version of the resolution in September, general manager Nick Turner said, adding that it was important for the two agencies to have a written understanding. 

That version called it a “joint” pilot project, which members of the sanitary district staff objected to, since that district planned and funded the system currently producing recycled water at its headquarters, at 1043 Monte Cristo Lane.

There agencies also have to agree on the scope of the project and specific responsibilities, like how much of the Santa Barbara Cemetery to serve with a pilot project, and how the recycled water will be distributed to customers. The water district passed its own resolution at a subsequent meeting, “further refining its plan,” which says the board supports a “phased approach whereby Phase 1 includes supplying tertiary treated recycled water” to the cemetery. 

More than one person raised their voice and hurled accusations during the Nov. 5 meeting, and it’s clear some of the contention of last year’s political campaigns lives on, a year after the elections for sanitary and water district board seats.  

The goal for recycled water has been to serve a few acres or the entire cemetery as a test, and build a facility capable of providing recycled water to large irrigation customers such as golf courses. A recent water district study was not optimistic about the opportunities for indirect potable reuse, which uses treated wastewater for groundwater basin augmentation. 

The timeline for recycled water in Montecito is in the scale of years, and the sanitary district’s pilot project water cannot leave the site under its current permits, according to Gabriel.

It’s unknown what the costs are to build a permanent recycled water facility and the cost of the water itself, which would impact whether or not customers are willing to buy it.  

Another joint boards meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 9 at the water district, 583 San Ysidro Road, and later that week, at 1:15 p.m. Dec. 12, the Montecito Sanitary District board will discuss its Coastal Development Plan application to the county, where the district will lay out all of its plans for the next few years.

The board will decide what to include in that, and some of the projects sure to be discussed are the new essential services building to replace the headquarters, a permanent recycled water treatment facility, and solar panels on carports, Gabriel said.

While the sanitary district thought it could build certain facilities on site without county permits, Planning & Development Director Lisa Plowman confirmed the special district needs building permits for the proposed office building and other development, as well as review by the Montecito Planning Commission.

“Our Department understands that the proposed development of the office building is important to the operations of the District and we intend to work closely with you and your staff to ensure a smooth process,” Plowman wrote in a September letter to  the Montecito Sanitary District. 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at