Is it possible to buy an election? It seems so. The upcoming election to literally fill the Montecito Water District Board and the Sanitary District Board is being “bought,” and we are letting it happen. By raising more than $120,000 (in itself suspicious for managing 4,600 water meters, or $28 per meter, about half of which the owners are nonresident and do not vote) from a few wealthy donors, and banding together a group of cronies, who by the way as a group have no significant background with the intricacies of water delivery or availability in our state, they have priced everyone else out of the race. In a small community like ours, effective and experienced board members have been confident enough in the past to run individually on their abilities and background. One must wonder about the motivation of this new group who profess to guarantee water security.
Not only have they dominated the race, they have exhibited a basic misunderstanding of the current water delivery structure. “The Water Security Team” has stated that they want to provide our community with reliable water security — but is that possible without changing our lifestyle? They make no mention of conservation plans or the replacement of our crumbling delivery infrastructure. According to a recent article in the Independent, “The larger question is whether ‘water security’ is even possible in a community where residents are using an average 208 gallons per capita per day, mostly on gardens of one-acre lots and large estates. (By contrast, Santa Barbarans use an average 55 gallons.)” Instead they talk about buying into or building desalinization sources without mentioning who will pay for this. Maybe the very wealthy can afford huge water bills, but not all members of our community are affluent.
The Water Security Team has also misled and falsely alarmed the community by asserting that the sanitary district, instead of providing recycled, treated wastewater for community use, is “dumping” 500,000 of improperly treated wastewater into the ocean, polluting our beaches. That is patently false. First, the sanitary district is already working on a plan to reclaim that water for use in public spaces, and second, the wastewater they are referring to is piped 1,500 feet off the coast. State records show that treated wastewater shipped offshore from Montecito is well within state and federal standards for ocean discharges.In fact, most months, the records show, it meets a higher treatment standard than is required — the standard for non-potable recycled water.
While I support the reclaiming of wastewater, I think it’s important to know the cost of doing so and more importantly who will bear those costs. The Water Security Team is silent on this. Since they have strong ties to Birnam Wood and the Valley Club (these two golf courses use 10 percent of Montecito’s drinking water to keep their greens lush), it is not likely that the two clubs will bear the cost of the reclaimed water as golf clubs in other areas do.
If you elect the Water Security Team en masse, you will be completing a plan put in place by the same wealthy donors in the last election. Two of the sitting board members, Plough and Wicks, were placed there after spending $80,000 to “win” their seats. Don’t sell out to a few wealthy donors. It’s important that you retain the incumbents running for positions on each board to maintain some balance and transparency for district activities. In the likely event that these seats are bought, we need interested and concerned citizens to monitor the board meetings on a regular basis.