Every Dog Has Its Day

Poodle Calculates High Price of Stupidity

Thursday, February 27, 2014
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DRIP, DROP: I’m not looking for any medal or proverbial chest to pin it on, but if we get the rains predicted for this weekend, a little gratitude ​— ​a six-pack of Guinness would do nicely ​— ​would be very much in order. For the past six weeks, I have been writing ad nauseatingly about the current drought. Unlike other news practitioners, I have not been content to merely report the facts. Instead, what I do falls in the unique category of “voodoo journalism.” My aim has been to tempt the fates to prove me wrong, shut me up, and make me look ridiculous with all my dire, semi-accusatory prognostications of paleo-droughts. Not to brag, but I’ve gone further still, hopping on my fender-free bike at the merest hint of precipitation, risking the all-embarrassing butt-splash to entice errant water molecules to leap from the Pineapple Express onto terra firma.

Angry Poodle

In the meantime, our local water agencies have been scrambling to catch up. The Montecito Water District lowered the boom on its profligate customers, not only declaring a drought emergency, but enacting water rationing. When you consider that a typical household will still be allowed to use 641 gallons a day for indoor use ​— ​not to mention 83,000 gallons annually outside, it sounds more dramatic than it is. (By contrast, a typical Santa Barbara household consumes about 200 gallons a day indoors.) It’s true, many Montecitans live more frugally than this when it comes to water. But some of the big guzzlers are so extravagant that they must have equipped their estates with both moats and rapids. Just three of Montecito’s biggest residential customers use enough to supply 300 Goleta homes. For these, complying with the rationing ordinance will pose a serious challenge. They’ll have to reduce consumption to 20 percent of normal use. If they continue as is, they’ll face penalties of $1.4 million.

In the meantime, most of county water districts have combined forces to buy up to 10,000 acre-feet of somebody else’s water to tide us over. (To put that in perspective, the City of Santa Barbara consumes 14,000 a year.) At best, it’s an iffy proposition. The farmers who have water to sell may be precluded by various jurisdictional hurdles from selling to us; those not strangled by such red tape probably can’t physically move the water through the San Joaquin Delta ​— ​the great pinch point in the state’s water-delivery system ​— ​which declared ecological bankruptcy in 2007, the same year, coincidentally, that the stock market crashed and the real estate bubble burst. Things, however, may change. But even were we to secure all the water we wanted, it would cost us about $13 million.

A few points bear hammering home. In the first place, we wouldn’t need those 10,000 acre-feet if the five water districts that rely on Lake Cachuma for about half their supplies managed to extricate their collective cranii from their collective recti and bothered to smell the roses. In years past, these agencies operated under an informal but exceedingly practical understanding that when Lake Cachuma dipped below a certain point, they would voluntarily cut back their draw. This was done to make limited supplies last longer and buy time in hopes of rain. Even among the imbecilic and addlepated, this was a no-brainer. This year, however, these agencies have opted to ignore this handshake agreement, allegedly at the instigation of Goleta. Had they followed tradition, however, they would have cut back deliveries by … 10,000 acre-feet. Ain’t that a coincidence! In other words, they blithely pissed away the same amount of water they’re now willing to spend $13 million to buy.

Of that $13 million for additional emergency supplies, the City of Santa Barbara is poised to spend $3.3 million. To put that in perspective, City Hall spends roughly $4 million a year for state water, for which it’s contractually entitled to receive 3,000 acre-feet a year. To put it mildly, the state water system is seriously oversubscribed. If it were an airline, it would sell five tickets for every seat on every plane. As a result, we usually get only a small fraction of our entitlement. But we still have to pay the full price anyway to cover fixed capital costs associated with pipes, pumps, electricity, and chemicals. By contrast, if City Hall were to “fire up” its long moth-balled desalination plant ​— ​built in response to the last drought ​— ​it could produce 3,000 acre-feet of water a year at the admittedly high price of about $5.5 million a year for a three-year period. (For a longer period, those numbers would change.) Clearly, that’s very expensive. And although the plant is fully permitted, it remains unclear whether the California Coastal Commission would pitch a fit about certain environmental impacts associated with the plant’s admittedly outdated technology.

The really big news about this year’s drought is that the state water system won’t be delivering a drop to Santa Barbara or any of its customers. When you consider City Hall will still be on the hook for its annual $4 million, then maybe the desal plant isn’t as cost-prohibitive as it appears. With desal ​— ​in stark contrast to state water ​— ​what you pay for is what you actually get. If it’s somewhat more expensive than state water, it’s a lot more reliable. Given that the Montecito Water District is threatening to go dry this summer, perhaps City Hall could tap into the pockets of that district’s frantically desperate, not to mention wealthy, ratepayers to defray some of the costs of starting up the desal plant. Hell, we could probably buy a new plant with just the penalties Montecito will charge water scofflaw water guzzlers.

In the meantime, City Hall is offering its customers a $1,000 rebate to retrofit their backyards into drought-tolerant Gardens of Eden. Preliminary indications suggest it’s working ​— ​five condo complexes are now using five acre-feet of water a year less than before. Maybe I’ll hook up, too. But only if I can run Guinness through my sprinklers.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

"Unlike other news practitioners, I have not been content to merely report the facts." (That qualifies as the understatement of the year!)

As one voodoo journalist to another...
Emerson once said "Fate is nothing but the deeds committed in a prior state of existence."

We've watched as the Angry Poodle "tempted fate" by letting political and religious bias control the tone of the Independent.
(Let's take the request "to pray" after their lack of reporting on below average rainfall and the need for conservation.)
It should be no surprise that with fresh water on the horizon, the Angry Poodle is asking us to buy him an alcoholic beverage!

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 7:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

One of the more valuable elements of the City Desal plant is its intake, which is well off shore in deep water. Coastal Commission activities have been focused on near-shore and beach intakes which can impact larval life.

drdan93109 (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 3:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The bumbling by the water agencies is enough to make one drown in a bucket of Guinness. I wonder if they will learn. We need a citizen group to educate, advocate and change the way things are done with respect to water use. Maybe the horror at the history of errors and how we are dependent on those errors, will hopefully motivate to be less dependent upon that bumbling.

Ag and municipal water use requires a revolution. Local centers of food production would be a good thing - with less dependence on pesticides.

Lawns and water-thirsty eucs have to go.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 4:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"When you consider that a typical (Montecito) household will still be allowed to use 641 gallons a day for indoor use ​..."

641 * 30 % 750 = 25.6 HCF per month

HCF's (Hundred Cubic Feet) are what shows up on our water bills.

That's a LOT of water for indoor use by one home. This makes me think the MWD isn't being serious about the drought.

That or there are an average of 8 live-in servants per Montecito home.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
March 2, 2014 at 5:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

sorry drdan93109, the old desal plant was a horrible idea and it still is.
Isn't anyone outraged that the lack of amity & cooperation between the 5 water districts has meant "they blithely pissed away the same amount of water they’re now willing to spend $13 million to buy." Let's hammer the Montecito water-bags, same guys as Montecito 101, who use so much water and tell us to piss away. EB, my informal survey shows that there are only 3 live-in servants per Montecito mansion, but that doesn't count the part-time help. But, trickle-down works, right?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 2, 2014 at 5:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan and drdan93109 arguing...only in California!

Don't worry about sucking up a few gallons of ocean water, there is no way doing so will endanger the water supply for the sea creatures but it just may keep those terrestrial beings in a good way.

Even if the water taken from the ocean were enough to fill 10 Lake Cachumas, it wouldn't lower the ocean levels one little bit.

They built the thing, 'might as well use it.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
March 2, 2014 at 10:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

uh, dolphin, the desal water is hideously expensive, it will be very expensive to get the plant in operation again, and the amount of gunk/residue from desalinating the salt water will require many truckloads PER DAY to drive away from SB and dump on someone else. You're a sea mammal, maybe you don't fully comprehend the water-greed of some of us terrestrials. Clearly, REDUCING DEMAND is the way to go, not refiring the white elephant of the desal plant.
PS there's a third DrD out there, too

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 3, 2014 at 2:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

You used "in the meantime" to start 2 successive paragraphs.

redbunz (anonymous profile)
March 3, 2014 at 6:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Fire up the desal plant, sell the salt to a wholesale distributor.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 3, 2014 at 6:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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