Santa Barbara residents prepare to pay price of desal

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The desalination plant on Yanonali St. sits dormant, but possibly not for long. Photo: Kathryn Barnes

As drought conditions continue throughout most of California, water officials in Santa Barbara are getting closer to renovating and reactivating their aged desalination plant. Earlier this month, the City of Santa Barbara chose a desal contractor to go into negotiation talks with. IDE Technologies and Kiewit Corporation, the same duo responsible for the Carlsbad desal plant, set to open this fall, are at the table talking price tag. Although their bid has not been released to the public, the $79 million net present value figure drew some eyes. According to Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark, the figure represents the cost of designing, building and operating the plant for five years, in today’s numbers.

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Lake Cachuma has been Santa Barbara’s main water source. Now, officials are seeking alternatives, like desal, to fill the gap. Graphic: City of Santa Barbara (click to enlarge)

If City Council approves the desalination plant restoration come June, Santa Barbara residents will notice surges in their water bills starting in July.

  • Low users – $13 monthly increase
  • Average users – $20 to $30 increase
  • High users – $$$

“We have a progressive inclined rate structure. Those folks in tier one, which we consider basic water needs for any residential family, won’t be paying for any of the desalination plant operations. The cost of the operations would be picked up by the larger users,” says Haggmark.

Many still oppose the decision to move forward on desal. Groups like Sweetwater Collaborative want to see more time and resources put toward studying groundwater recharge and recycled water. Although Haggmark says the city has decided to study those alternatives in parallel to reactivating the plant, he says desal has been part of the city’s water supply plan for a long time. “The time to do planning isn’t in the emergency. The time to do planning is before the emergency,” says Haggmark. That time, apparently, is up.

The public is welcome to comment in June when the negotiated bid is presented to City Council. If approved, construction is scheduled to begin in the fall.