City Fights for Desalination Plant Permits

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
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Assistant city administrator Paul Casey expressed mixed feelings and cautious optimism that the state regulatory agencies with oversight over the licensing of coastal desalination plants will eventually agree that Santa Barbara’s permits for its long-mothballed desal plant could be deemed valid in case the drought continues. Casey traveled to Sacramento accompanied by Councilmember Dale Francisco to make their case to the California Coastal Commission and the State Water Quality Control Board.

Casey said he felt “really happy” about his conversations with Coastal Commission staff about the matter, though he cautioned nothing has been put in writing yet. The State Water Quality Control Board might pose greater challenges, he said, noting that the city’s permit which includes provisions for the emergency desalination plant expires next May. Should it not rain this fall, city water planners had planned to decide whether to pursue the desal option no later than April.

In addition, the state board is currently conducting a major policy overhaul on desalination plants in general, and it’s hard to tell whether the city’s plans will conform to the new policy. “We’re not pushing the panic button here,” Casey said, “but we’re dealing with a plan that hasn’t been released yet.” In general, however, the state water board frowns on desal plants that suck water from the surface of the ocean floor because they’re more deadly to aquatic life in the larval stage.

The city’s desalination facility — built in 1992 — relies on such an intake system. In recent years, the state agency has made clear its preference for subsurface intake systems. Casey said such a requirement would be much more expensive and could delay a start-up of the desal plant well past the time it’s most urgently needed.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Since when did we decide this project was affordable?
And at what price?
This is becoming the irrational hysteria of the early 1990s and the forever obligation to pay for overpriced State Water.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
June 10, 2014 at 3:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Good news. This project is not only affordable, it is necessary to ensure a long term water supply. Besides which, water is a scarce resource and should not be cheap. Good for you, City. No reason this should be delayed by regulatory masturbation.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
June 10, 2014 at 5:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We need desal capacity sooner rather than later. Santa Barbara is barely sustainable as configured, even in the present climate. What if it gets hotter and dryer for a few decades? Pumping groundwater is a bad sign because relying on the aquifer is a short-term solution, especially when the water laws let commercial agriculture suck up all they want to irrigate non-native crops. There's no way to know when/if replenishment might happen, so making the ocean drinkable is an expensive but necessary fix, along with curtailing more consumption.

anemonefish (anonymous profile)
June 11, 2014 at 1:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How expensive is too expensive and costly?

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
June 11, 2014 at 10:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ask the producers of "Waterworld".

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 11, 2014 at 11:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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