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Santa Barbara residents will soon be drinking water from city’s desalination plant

Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant could come online within a week and begin sending potable water from the facility into the city’s distribution system.
Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant could come online within a week and begin sending potable water from the facility into the city’s distribution system. Noozhawk.com

After months of delays, Santa Barbara is preparing to flip the switch on its revamped Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant and send potable water from the facility into the city’s distribution system.

The plant will provide 3,125 acre-feet of water a year — or about a third of the city’s water supply needs — with the potential to eventually expand up to 10,000 acre-feet.

An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land at about a foot deep. A typical household uses around half of an acre-foot in a year.

“It’s so close — it could be any day,” said Kelley Dyer, the city’s water supply manager.

Major construction has finished, and seawater has been circulating through the Yanonali Street plant as workers fine-tune its components. The state permit to operate it came May 2.

Water resources manager Joshua Haggmark cautioned that all parts of the plant have to demonstrate that they’re operating together perfectly before the plant can come online. The city and state also have to be comfortable with the desalinated water’s quality.

“The staff are very optimistic about getting operating,” he said. “But there are a lot of challenges. This is an incredibly complicated facility, and it has many different processes that all have to get along and be working uniformly.”

“It could happen next week that everything is working, but it could take longer,” he added.

Talks with Montecito

Though the big day is approaching, negotiations have stalled between the city and the Montecito Water District, which has been looking to purchase 1,250 acre-feet a year of desal water under a long-term agreement.

Dyer said the two sides had developed good compromises and basic terms at the staff level, but the MWD board declined to pursue the next phase of negotiations and did not want to fund a new pipeline that would help convey desal water.

The city has since stopped planning for the pipeline, Dyer said.

The MWD board last discussed the project in March and had concerns over the costs and financial contributions Santa Barbara wanted it to cover as well as the terms of a deal.

Discussions were dropped in the wake of the powerful February storm that replenished South Coast water supplies. Montecito has also been preparing to purchase water-storage space in the Central Valley, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has green-lighted allocation of Lake Cachuma water.

But coming together on a desal deal is still very much on the table, Dyer said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at sgoldman@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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