Forecasters Now Say El Niño More Likely

For the first time, national weather forecasters are saying there’s a 75 percent chance Santa Barbara and points south will experience heavier than normal rains courtesy of this year’s El Niño. Until recently, they’ve been more equivocal, putting the odds at only 50-50. That remains the prognosis they’re giving areas of California north of San Francisco, where most major reservoirs are.

To the extent there is serious precipitation, the prediction is it will begin in January. That factoid was delivered unto the Santa Barbara City Council by city water czar Joshua Haggmark. He noted also that city water customers used 28 percent less water this October than the year before and 36 percent less since a Stage III drought was declared.

For the month of October, the drop in consumption equates to a 10.5 percent drop in sales revenues, or $1.3 million. In August, by contrast, when conservation savings were more pronounced, water sales dropped by 17 percent. (Because more water is customarily used in August, the opportunity for conservation is greater.)

Haggmark also notified councilmembers that construction teams working on the new desalination plant unearthed dirt with high levels of lead and hydrocarbons. As a result, crews will have to haul the contaminated dirt offsite to a treatment facility. How much extra that will cost remains unknown. Haggmark estimated this will set construction efforts back 30 days, but he remains optimistic the site will be ready for the installation of filtration chains and other heavy machinery come May. He also said his department is currently negotiating with the Montecito Water District to purchase significant quantities of desalinated water.

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