Montecito Water District General Manager Nick Turner, left, and district President Floyd Wicks
Montecito Water District General Manager Nick Turner, left, and district President Floyd Wicks support Montecito’s partnership with Santa Barbara on water. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Santa Barbara is moving forward on a plan to expand the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant to provide water to Montecito.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 7-0 to apply for a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan for up to $26 million to fund the project, which requires extending an existing pipeline from the Cater Water Treatment Plant on San Roque Road to Montecito. 

“This is extremely important,” said Nick Turner, general manager of the Montecito Water District. “It’s a huge step toward achieving reliability for our water supply.”

Montecito and Santa Barbara have been in start-stop talks for several years, but were unable to ever come to terms on an agreement to share water.

Talks turned serious in 2016, and then negotiations began in 2016.

The city is poised to enter into a 50-year deal to provide 1,430 acre-feet of water annually to Montecito, at a cost of $2,700 per acre-foot. 

The city’s desalination plant currently produces 3,125 acre-feet of water a year.

Santa Barbara Public Works Director Rebecca Bjork said she estimates it would cost between $12 million and $15 million to pay for upgrades and extention of the pipe to Montecito. The Montecito Water District would pay about 65 percent of the cost of the pipeline work.

All of the terms of the agreement are expected to be presented to the City Council in January.

City staff wants to move ahead on applying for the loan because the process could take up to a year. Bjork said it’s possible that the city would award a construction contract by the end of 2019 and construction would take another 18 months after that.

“This has been a long path to get to this place,” said Councilman Gregg Hart. “Working regionally is a better approach for water supplies. This really makes sense.”

Councilman Jason Dominguez, participating in the meeting remotely from South Africa, expressed concern about the contract, but ultimately supported it. 

“What we have is a back-of-the-envelope plan,” said Dominguez, who called for a regional water supply study. “There are some intermediary tools that we could use to bring light to the subject.”

Floyd Wick, president of the Montecito Water District, said moving forward is essential for Montecito. 

With the desalination plant, “we saw a real need to get going to secure reliable water for the district.”

Despite the “roller-coaster ride” of talks, he said, he was pleased that Montecito and Santa Barbara are now partners.

“We’re still here,” he said. 

Bjork agreed that Santa Barbara and Montecito should be partners when it comes to water.

“The plant was originally conceived as a regional supply,” Bjork said. “The line between Montecito and Santa Barbara is a political line only.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.