Tom Fayram, the county’s water resources king, said Tuesday that recycled water provided a lot of promise for the future during a hearing on alternative water supplies. The county supervisors discussed a $500,000 study that found there are 15 recycled-water options that could provide between 2,900 and 7,600 acre-feet of additional supply, costing $300 to $2,200 per acre-foot. One acre-foot, Fayram said, is more or less enough to provide for a single family in a year.
Considering the unappetizing image of salvaging into drinking water the wastewater that would otherwise be sent out to sea, it’s no surprise the word “polishing” was used to describe “toilet-to-tap.” But Supervisor Peter Adam, known for his outspoken voice on the dais, said he could not think of anything less appetizing than eating at a place that had problems with bacteria. “We probably know who that’s been recently,” he said. Fayram said some players in the agriculture industry are concerned about marketing their products if grown with recycled water. “Some buyers won’t purchase it,” he said. Others, he said, prefer it given the growing “groundswell of sustainable” products. With that, Adam jabbed, “If you die of some kind of poisoning … it makes it less sustainable.”
In the past, relations between the area’s water agencies have been strained and acrimonious. “I just want to caution everyone to not get too excited about making a one world water government,” Adam said. “Some have taken actions in their own best interests … others are short of water.” Across the state, more than a dozen desalination sites are being proposed; this week, Carlsbad opened one of the country’s largest — with a $1 billion price tag. Earlier this year, the City of Santa Barbara decided to revive its 1990s-era desal plant for roughly $55 million. An item on whether the Montecito Water District will tap into it is expected to go before City Council next month. The supervisors directed staff to look at a regional desal facility and return to the board next year.
Generally speaking, Fayram said, direct potable reuse is less expensive than desalination, though such treatment might not currently exist in the United States. “It does have to be treated pretty highly,” he said. Lake Cachuma, which will not receive new state water allocations next year, has dropped to 15 percent of capacity. In terms of increasing lake level, the county is limited in what it can do, Fayram said. Other alternative supply options included storm-water capture, imported water, and groundwater. The report did not study conservation. “We looked at it as not an option anymore,” Fayram said. “It is what we are doing.”