With Santa Barbara experiencing not just backbreaking drought but record-setting temperatures, county fire officials are putting residents on notice that this year’s high fire season is far from over. Sundowner winds typically flare up at this time of year, scouring Santa Barbara’s especially hot and dry backcountry. Water levels at Lake Cachuma ​— ​the major source for 150,000 South Coast residents ​— ​is down to about one-third.

The City of Santa Barbara is hoping to entice water customers to begin sprouting yard signs proclaiming, “Gold Is the New Green,” where their lawns once were. Other locales have used “Brown Is the New Green,” but Madeleine Ward, the city’s new water conservation czar, said “gold” had a “nicer, friendlier spin to it.” In the meantime, she said, the city’s $1,000 rebate program to persuade customers to shift from lawns to drought-tolerant landscaping has seen a four-fold increase in rebate pre-inspections from the previous year, jumping from 122 this time last year to 504.

Since January, Ward said, her department has received 889 complaints from residents about violating Stage II drought admonitions against daytime irrigation. At this point, Ward said, no fines have been imposed. “We have found that education and one-on-one contact with people have been very effective.” For Montecito, however, even conservation rates in excess of 45 percent aren’t enough. Next Wednesday, the Montecito Water District will hold its first informational hearing on installing a desalination plant of its own in the waters off its coast.

Although the cost involved will be far in excess of the $32 million it will cost the City of Santa Barbara to reactivate its long-mothballed desal plant, public interest in such a plant is high in Montecito, which has no groundwater basin to speak of, a tiny dam, and no state water upon which it can rely. The report should also outline the significant permitting and environmental hurdles such a plant would inevitably encounter, as well.


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