A barge off East Beach is a floating platform for divers inspecting and maintaining the desal plant’s intake pumps, including at night, which requires a bright light for safety. | Credit: City of Santa Barbara

An intensely bright light that can be seen for miles blaring from offshore is emanating from a barge acting as a floating platform for divers who are inspecting, repairing, and doing maintenance for Santa Barbara’s desalination plant.

The light off Santa Barbara’s East Beach is keeping some residents up at night, said one in a letter to the Independent, describing the lights as “intensely invasive.”

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Gaylen Fair of the city water quality division said the divers were working at depths as great as 40 feet to reach the plant’s intake pumps and related infrastructure. A crane onboard the barge was raising and lowering underwater equipment from the deck as part of the mandatory maintenance work. The lights were needed for the safety of the crew supporting the divers, said the city water department’s Cathy Taylor, who apparently are working at night.

The desal plant was idled for their safety, Fair said, and water customers in the waterfront area and possibly in the Funk Zone might notice a difference in the taste of the water currently. The mix lacks the desal but includes water from Lake Cachuma as well as groundwater.

The barge would likely remain for the next few weeks, depending on the outcome of the inspections, Taylor said.

[Update: March 4, 2021] The barge left Santa Barbara waters before the light pollution issue could be addressed, Taylor said on Thursday morning. However, during the work performed, the divers found repairs that needed to be done, and the barge will return in a few weeks. She said they will deal with the illumination issue at that time.

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