Montecito Deserves Better

Water Capture Through Desal, Recycling, Groundwater Management, and Conservation

In response to Nick Welsh’s article “Montecito’s Water War Erupts” the Montecito Water Security Team submits this rebuttal.

As voters consider the performance of the Board of Directors of the Montecito Sanitary District (MSD), it is important that they understand that the MSD discharges all of Montecito’s wastewater into the Pacific Ocean approximately 1,100 feet off Butterfly Beach. Wastewater can be treated to three levels before ocean discharge: secondary, which is the minimum allowed under State law; tertiary, which is cleaner and can also be used for landscape irrigation (“purple pipe”); and the so-called “gold standard,” which is so clean that it can be used to recharge groundwater basins. Anything less than the gold standard is, by definition, partially treated.

Under the direction of its board, the MSD treats about 500,000 gallons a day of wastewater to the secondary level and then discharges it into the ocean. It is therefore treating to the minimum level allowed under state law, despite the fact that Heal the Ocean has called on all local sanitation districts to discharge at the tertiary standard, and has been doing so since 2001 because of the obvious benefits to the environment. Summerland, by contrast, treats to tertiary before ocean discharge, as do numerous sanitary districts throughout the region and the state.

The vast majority of coastal sanitation districts also recycle a meaningful percentage of their wastewater. This reduces ocean discharges (which is even better for the environment) and conserves potable water by allowing recycled water to be used instead for landscaping. The MSD Board has purportedly been in favor of recycling for the last 14 years, but it has done little to advance the cause of wastewater recycling in our community during that time. Water is a precious resource in our community, and the MSD is wasting 500,000 gallons of water every day. Rather than treating water to a higher standard before discharging or, better still, recycling wastewater to irrigate the cemetery and golf courses, the MSD Board is instead moving forward with a new $3.5 million office building to provide space for a few employees.

All of this is entirely inconsistent with our community values and expectations. We have used pointed language to make this important point throughout this campaign because Montecito deserves much better.

The Montecito Water Security Team was organized by a group of concerned and committed citizens to bring a resilient, sustainable, and reliable water supply to Montecito. Our platform is to capture every drop of water this side of the mountain by pursuing desal, recycled wastewater for landscape irrigation, strategic and sustainable groundwater management and use, and continued conservation. The incumbents for both Montecito Water and Montecito Sanitary districts had more than a decade to bring a sustainable and reliable water supply to Montecito and failed to do so. The Montecito Water Security Team is deeply committed to the community and represents the most environmentally conscious slate in Montecito’s history. We would hope that a publication such as the Santa Barbara Independent would support our platform.

The authors are members of the Montecito Water Security Team.

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