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Is There Enough Water for a Bigger UCSB?


When UCSB Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas recently presented the university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) to the Goleta City Council, he was asked whether there would be enough water. Lucas responded that while UCSB could get the plan about two-thirds done, completion would require more water than the Goleta Water District (GWD) has available, when all currently projected development in the Goleta Valley is built.

Margaret Connell

Specifically, the university’s current allotment from the GWD is 944.5 acre-feet per year (afy), but 1,442 afy would be needed at full development of the LRDP in 2025. This plan projects student enrollment to increase from 20,000 to 25,000 and faculty and staff to grow by about 1,800 by 2025. It also aims to provide housing for 50 percent of the students, and 1,800 more residential units for faculty and staff. The plan’s Environmental Impact Report states that “to fully implement the 2008 LRDP, the university would need both to increase its current allotment and acquire additional water supplies beyond those presently available to the Goleta Water District.”

A 2005 assessment by the GWD found that water supply could meet expected demand during the next 20 years, based on known projected development. But UCSB’s future plans were not available to the district when the plan was drawn up. The new LRDP would increase demand for potable water beyond the district’s available water supply. In addition, there are pressures on the City of Goleta and the County of Santa Barbara to rezone agricultural parcels for development, adding new demands on a limited resource.

What are the current sources of Goleta water and where can additional supplies be found?

These are questions not just for UCSB but for any new development in the Goleta Valley.

Goleta’s water comes from four main sources:

• An entitlement from Lake Cachuma, which may be reduced during multiple years of low rainfall.

State Water, the availability of which may be impacted by a decreased Sierra snowpack and early runoff due to global warming, and also by court rulings to protect endangered species such as the Delta smelt. Some describe it as “paper” water.

Ground water. The district is entitled to use 2,350 afy of ground water each year and can tap an additional 3,250 afy in periods of severe drought. However, in recent years, the GWD has been “banking” ground water and storing it to rebuild the water table.

Recycled water. This is used extensively for landscaping on campus but is non-potable.

Do any of these sources have water to spare for UCSB or other new projects? Cachuma’s water is used by five jurisdictions and each plans to use its entire allocation. GWD is not entitled to pump more ground water than is already accounted for in its 2030 plan. And UCSB is already using recycled water for more than 90 percent of its landscaping and will use it to irrigate new playing fields and housing developments, but this does not alleviate the need for additional potable water. Then there is State Water. Some South Coast jurisdictions are not using their full allocations of State Water and the university claims it could negotiate for a share of their allotments. But this is a highly unreliable source.

Conservation measures such as installing low-flow showerheads and toilets have already been instituted, and public awareness campaigns can produce some positive savings. But if sufficient additional water supplies cannot be acquired, the university is clear that the project and proposed future student enrollment will have to be reduced.

The UCSB situation is just one example of the limits and constraints facing any new development on the South Coast. Water is a finite resource. If we cannot find new sources or radically change the amount we use through conservation, many of the debates about high-density housing and new commercial development may disappear in a cloud of dust.

There will be a public hearing on the LRDP on Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. at UCSB’s Embarcadero Hall in Isla Vista. You may also submit written comments to: University of California, Office of Campus Planning and Design, c/o UCSB Vision 2025, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-1030.

Goleta Grapevine appears every Monday morning online at independent.com/goleta. To contact the author, who helped craft the original General Plan during her time as a councilmember and as mayor, email margaretconnell@earthlink.net.

To submit a comment on this article, email letters@independent.com or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email tips@independent.com.



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