Santa Barbara Water Follies

The City Needs to Change Course

In the weekly newsletter sent out by the City of Santa Barbara on June 14, we are given a peek at how the water policy followed by the city over the past decade has worked out.

The city provides us with a chart showing that consumers of water in Santa Barbara pay substantially more for their water than do Goleta, Carpinteria or Montecito at all but the very least levels of consumption. Remarkably, huge estates in Montecito irrigate their grounds at 68 percent of the cost of urban homesteads in our city!

This Montecito luxury is ironically made possible because Santa Barbara is, as the city notes, selling water to Montecito at wholesale cost. We even, as I understand it, paid for the line to deliver the water to Montecito. This subsidy of the Montecito ratepayers was made necessary as a result of the extravagant price of the first and second desalination plant boondoggle.

Santa Barbara has foolishly and questionably agreed to a 30-year private contract with the vendor for the operation of the desal effort which will profit that company and provide the city with more water than it can distribute within its service area. To meet this contractual burden, we need to sell water, even at a loss.

Desalination is not only an expensive endeavor but an environmentally abusive one. Huge amounts of electricity are needed to push water through the filters; these filters are not reusable nor recyclable; the heavily concentrated brine that this effort produces is then discharged into the near ocean where it negatively affects the waters that produce most of our sea life, harming reproduction and young fishes especially. This discharge is on top of the continued dumping of sewage effluent into the same environments.

Instead of this extravagant and unsustainable effort the city needs to change course.

Using hugely less amounts of money the city could have built a plant to allow the re-use of waters sent through the treatment plant and dumped into the sea. Such plants exist internationally and through California. Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange counties have been recycling water for potable use for decades. Recent state laws are making this even more reasonable. And there is a pending $10 million grant available from Prop. 1 funds designed to improve water reliability that might be dedicated to this task rather than further expansion of the desal effort.

Finally, Santa Barbara has claimed in the past that recycled water will not benefit us as there is not a sufficient aquifer to accommodate it in our city. But instead of building pipelines to deliver desalinated water to Montecito, the city could build pipelines to deliver recycled water to the aquifers under our city, in the foothills, Goleta, Montecito, and Carpinteria for the benefit of the greater community. Such water could also be delivered to Cater Water Treatment plant where it could be mixed with other water supplies and sent back to us as safe and sanitary.

Hopefully, in this time of municipal elections, those wishing to lead our city will speak to this problem.

Update, June 26, 2021: Since this article was published the Montecito Water District has made known that it wants permission from the State of California to be able to directly inject desalinated water into their aquifer to replenish Montecito wells. Desalinated water is by far the most expensive water that can be produced in large quantities, but at the prices being offered by Santa Barbara it is cheap enough to Montecito Water District that they can pretty literally pour it into the ground.


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