Montecito’s newest water official spells out his plan

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Two new members of Montecito’s Water District start their jobs this month.

The district provides water to about 4,500 customers living in Montecito and Summerland, one of California’s wealthiest enclaves.

Tobe Plough and Floyd Wicks finished ahead of appointed incumbent Charles Newman, with former district general manager Tom Mosby finishing fourth in the November 8th election.

Both Wicks and Plough ran on the platform of putting new blood into what they called a defunct department. Wicks spent over $40,000 on his campaign, well above average for a local election.

He spoke with KCRW’s Larry Perel about how he plans to replace the district’s dried up sources.

KCRW: What will you focus on during your first months?

Wicks: In today’s environment, recycled water is a must. The community wants to do recycled water, as well as provide some level of desalinated water from the Pacific Ocean. I would label both of these supplies as “drought proof.”

I think the key is finalizing the Urban Water Management Plan, which the district hasn’t filed since 2005. There’s been way too much secrecy in negotiation with the city. I also want to consider an alternate supply to desal from the city of Santa Barbara. There are other options out there, and I think they ought to be explored in this plan.

Where do Montecito and Summerland get their water now?

It has some local wells, which are highly dependent on rainfall. It gets water from Lake Cachuma, which is also rainfall dependent, and getting down to a point of being dire. The other source is from the State Water Project, which the community signed up for the 1990s.

Seventy percent of Montecito’s water usage goes toward landscaping. Would you support a ban, or cutback on water used for landscaping?

I would support utilizing as much recycled water as possible, so you don’t have to cut back. Otherwise, it becomes a fire hazard. Right now, there’s a tremendous number of dead trees and brown lawns. It’s really putting the community at risk.

You ran the private water company Golden State Water for 30 years. What would you say to allegations that you’ll try to privatize the Montecito Water District?

I have no interest in privatizing the district. One of the board members threw that out to the community, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

The city of Ojai is one of Golden State’s clients. Three years ago, people in Ojai voted to oust the water company because they said they were being overcharged. You had left the company by that point, but what would you say to people who don’t trust your record?

If the community of Montecito and Summerland had a choice of paying the water rate in Ojai compared to the rate they’re currently paying, they would choose Ojai’s water rate. It’s a matter of degree. [People in Ojai] haven’t done enough comparing nearby.

You can find more KCRW stories about the drought here.