With the drought now officially almost over and the city’s new $70 million desalination plant poised to start, the Santa Barbara City Council just authorized water czar Joshua Haggmark to spend up to $5 million to buy 2.4 acres of land by César Chávez and Quarantina streets for what may one day be the site of a toilet-to-tap water recycling plant. The land in question — owned by the city’s successor to the Redevelopment Agency that was dissolved five years ago by the State Legislature — abuts the railroad tracks and is located across Calle César Chávez from the waste-water treatment plant. As such, the site might prove ideal if and when City Hall were to pursue waste-water recycling as a future water supply.
To date, the statewide regulatory thresholds for that technology have not been proposed, let alone adopted, and water quality issues remain a subject of public controversy. Champions of water recycling contend the technology requires less energy than desalination and is less harmful to the marine environment and that the water is cheaper to produce. But that site is also coveted by many in the area commercial fishing industry, who showed up last week to explain the land could provide much-needed storage space and other forms of infrastructure support that can’t be accommodated elsewhere in the harbor area.
By law, City Hall is required to sell off all land once owned by the Redevelopment Agency, and bids must be submitted in the next two weeks. Given that the property is hemmed in by industrial uses, it’s unclear how much interest the parcel will elicit. If the city’s Water Resources Division succeeds in buying the property, the $5 million purchase will cause a bump in the water rates paid by water customers. Some councilmembers have expressed concern of saddling low-income residents with even higher water bills when it remains unclear how much additional water — if any — the city actually needs.