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Santa Barbara residents are now drinking water from the sea

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant started producing potable water that was placed into the distribution system to city customers, the city announced Tuesday.
Santa Barbara’s desalination plant started producing potable water that was placed into the distribution system to city customers, the city announced Tuesday.

Some of the water Santa Barbarans are receiving in their homes now comes from the ocean.

The city announced Tuesday that water from its revamped desalination plant has entered the distribution system and is going out to customers.

“Initially, desalinated water production will be intermittent until the start-up and testing phase is completed,” the city said in a statement.

Once the final green light is given, the East Yanonali Street facility will produce 3 million gallons of potable water a day, covering 30 percent of Santa Barbara’s needs and adding a significant new source to its water portfolio.

The Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant was originally constructed in response to a water crisis in the late 1980s, but it only operated for a few months in 1992 after plentiful rain rendered it unnecessary.

The City Council decided in 2015 to reactivate the facility in response to the recent record drought. The cost for the project is around $70 million and has the potential to be expanded and produce more than double the planned 3,125 acre-feet a year.

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.

The plant converts seawater to potable water by filtering out solid matter, using reverse osmosis membranes and water treatment to bring the water to the same quality as the rest of the water in Santa Barbara’s distribution system. The city says it has a special brine discharge system to minimize the facility’s impact on the environment.

Santa Barbara’s desalinated water meets or exceeds state and federal drinking water regulations and is also a softer water source than surface and groundwater supplies, according to city staff.

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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