Santa Barbara's dormant water desalination plant.

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara's dormant water desalination plant.

Desal Startup Delayed Again

Operations Now Scheduled to Begin Mid-March

The start-up date for Santa Barbara’s desalination plant has been pushed back again, this time to mid-March 2017. City water czar Joshua Haggmark notified the Water Commission of the latest delay at a meeting last week, prompting Commissioner Barry Keller to comment afterward, “Things have gone from worse to Worcestershire.”

According to Haggmark, construction crews recently connected two stretches of underwater pipeline, which he termed a “major milestone” and something “we were nervous about.” Haggmark also said the desal plant has been successfully hooked up to the power grid and should begin receiving actual seawater sometime in mid-December. After pumping starts, a 40-day “maturation” process is required, during which time the media of the water filtration membranes are biologically cured. Haggmark stressed that the engineering and construction process is highly complex, adding, “There’s still a lot of vulnerability out there.”

Haggmark said some of the delays so far stemmed from unanticipated issues, such as lead contamination in the soil surrounding the onshore facility. Others he described as being “unexcused,” but he said he’s been assured by the contractor that the project will be successfully completed. The $60 million question, of course, is when. “If it’s anytime in February, I’ll be happy,” said Keller.

But Haggmark had more bad news to share, telling the commissioners that the city’s recently rebuilt reclaimed water system was on the blink as the system’s PVC pipes showed signs of cracking. Although the pipes are designed to withstand pressures of 200 pounds per square inch, they were showing signs of giving out at 50 psi. Had city workers been nearby, Haggmark said, they would have been in physical danger. Although demand for the recycled treated wastewater that is relatively low ​— ​2.5 acre-feet per day ​— ​with the new facility down, city parks, fields, and golf courses will be using potable water instead. While Haggmark did not announce that City Hall would be suing the contractor, it was clear the matter is currently under deliberation in closed session by the City Council.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Mandatory Evacuation Called for Fire Zones in Santa Barbara County

Heavy rains expected Tuesday-Thursday; debris flows feared.

Cannabis Farmer Gets over $1 Million Insurance Payout

Thomas Fire ash destroys crop; analysis finds asbestos, lead, arsenic, and magnesium.

Next Debris Flow Could Take Different, Unknown Path

"I've never seen this degree of hazard," says Cal Fire scientist.

Biggest Storm Since 1/9 Approaching Santa Barbara

The storm system brings increased threat of flash floods and debris flows.

Jack Johnson Tours Montecito Disaster Area Ahead of Benefit Concert

Jack and Kim Johnson met with Bucket Brigade leaders to see the destruction firsthand.