Montecito Water District Update

With recent talk of a water shortage emergency, a proposed water rate increase, and rumors swirling over the water use of the proposed Miramar project, we sat down recently with Tom Mosby, General Manager of the Montecito Water District, to ask questions and set the record straight.

Water Shortage Emergency

At two recent public meetings to alert the community about the proposed new rate structure, Mosby said that around August 5 the water supply would be at zero. And although water is still coming out of our faucets, the District would have to pull more water from Cachuma and Jameson Lakes, creating a deficit for the next water year. “We try to live with what our entitlement is for each of those sources,” Mosby explained. If more water is pulled, not only does it go against a settlement from decades ago, it creates a greater water shortage problem for the next year. It’s not about costing the District money, he said, at least not when pulling water from our local lakes.

Luckily, Mosby was able to acquire 1400 acre-feet of supplemental water from the state. “What I’m going to do now is reduce the usage of Jameson Lake and I’m going to cut back our usage on Cachuma. You have to use your state water, use it all, because it is expensive water and if Cachuma spills again this winter and you have state water stored in it, it goes right over the spillway, and that’s expensive water so you want to use it all; that way you conserve your local sources,” he explained. He joked that he sent an email out in which he wrote that receiving the extra water “feels like Christmas!”

If the water had not been acquired, Mosby estimated that as early as next week the Board would have called a meeting in order to declare a water shortage emergency. “It’s taken away the pressure; the District now has the water supply, but it doesn’t change the fact that next year we’re starting off with a very low state water allocation,”
 he said. For the ‘08-‘09 water year, the water the state allocates for us will be lower than this year, so Mosby is projecting a 1200 acre-feet deficit. This is due in part to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declaring a statewide drought condition; several counties in California have ready declared water shortage emergency conditions. “Our customer demand is going through the roof, and this is what’s caught us off guard,” he said.

Proposed Rate Structure

The MWD Board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday August 19 at 2 pm at the fire station adjacent to MWD. Because of the early time of the meeting, the Board decided to hold off on making a decision about the rate structure, and is instead holding a second public hearing the next evening at 6:30 at El Montecito Presbyterian Church. “At that point the Board will either take action and adopt [the new structure] or do nothing, and I’m not sure what the Board is going to, but of course we are strongly recommending it because people are not conserving,” he said.

Mosby went on to say that 5% of the single-family customers in Montecito use 30% of the water in their classification. “That is a true imbalance; and of course those people have the larger properties and if anyone is going to cause a change, they can; they have the resources available, they have the acreage available to truly re-look at their landscaping,” he said.

Miramar Hotel

The SEIR for the Miramar indicated that it would need 117 acre-feet of water per year, which was considerably higher than what MWD expected to provide. Mosby explained that with new conservation-oriented state-of-the-art fixtures, water use for the interior was estimated at 45 acre-ft per year. As far as exterior use including landscaping and water features, Mosby explained that MWD was advised early on that developer Rick Caruso would be using an onsite well to offset demand on potable water from the district. However, the use of the well is no longer part of the project. “It caught us off guard,” Mosby said. The base allotment for the project remains at 45 acre-feet, and for all water the development uses over that amount, there will be a greater cost for it per the proposed block rate structure. “They are being treated as every other customer in the district and that’s the most important part that people need to understand. A lot of people are using water that was much greater than they’ve used in the past, and we are trying to curb that usage; but we can’t stop them from using water unless we declare a water emergency,” he said.

In a letter to Matt Middlebrook of Caruso Affiliated, Mosby writes that MWD has discussed the possibility of the District re-activating a District-owned well that is currently not in use and not on the Miramar property; the well has been designated as a “stand-by water supply.” The District could re-activate the supply if it is determined that it would be a benefit to the community at large, and if Caruso Affiliated contributes and pays a share of the development costs. In that case the base allotment for the project would increase from 45 acre-feet to 60 acre-feet per year.

MFPD Welcomes Three New Firefighters

At a graduation ceremony held at the Cabrillo Bath House on July 31, Montecito Fire Protection District, along with the Santa Barbara City Fire Department, welcomed nine new recruits. Three of the nine are the newest additions to the MFPD: Sarah Marshall, Ben Hauser and Jordan Zeitsoff.

In addition to the recruits’ families, friends and fellow firefighters, elected and formerly elected politicians Grant House, Helene Schneider, Hannah Beth Jackson and Mayor Marty Blum were in attendance. After the new firefighters made their debut, Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Ron Prince said, “I’m especially proud of these folks; it’s been a grueling twelve weeks. It has certainly been a long anticipated day, and for many of these folks it hasn’t just been the last twelve weeks, it’s been years of persistence to try to figure out how to get into what I think is the best profession on the planet.” He explained that the joint fire academy between the city and Montecito is indicative of what the fire service has turned into. “The joint academy represents the fact that any one fire department really can’t handle a large fire emergency by themselves and we have to work together as a cohesive unit. This is a great start to have that level of respect for each other.”

After sharing a heartfelt personal story of his experience with firefighters, Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace said to the new recruits, “We assist people through what is often the worst moment of their lives; this takes courage, compassion and empathy.” Wallace awarded Captain Mike Lee, who ran the academy, a gift for his hard work over the last three months. Lee spoke to the cohesiveness of the group of graduates, and congratulated them on completing the academy requirements. “All nine of these guys did really well; I would take any one of them on a call with me,” he said.

Jordan Zeitsoff has lived and worked in Santa Barbara for the past four years. He comes to the Montecito Fire District with a BA in Political Science, a minor in Spanish, and an AS degree in Fire Technology. After college, Jordan spent two years as an emergency medical technician in Los Angeles. He has worked for the US Forest Service in the Los Padres Forest for the past four years, including work as a Hot Shot crewmember, and a helicopter crewmember on the Santa Barbara Ranger District.

Ben Hauser was born in Stratford Ontario, Canada, and currently lives in Thousand Oaks. He is pursuing his AS degree in Fire Technology at Oxnard College. Ben is keeping fire service in the family, as his father is a retired Canadian firefighter. Prior to working for Montecito Fire District, Ben worked as a Volunteer Fire Cadet for the Ventura County Fire Department and has five years of wildland fire hand crew experience, including the Los Padres Hot Shots, and working as a helicopter crewmember for the Arroyo Grande flight crew.

Sarah Marshall joined the fire service after graduating from high school in 1995. She worked for two years on an engine for the US Forest Service in the Los Padres Forest, and then worked as a firefighter with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), which is now known as CalFire. While employed with CDF, Sarah was also a reserve firefighter with Lompoc Fire Department. In 1999, Lompoc Fire hired her as a full time firefighter, where she worked for nine years prior to joining the Montecito Fire District this past spring. Sarah is the first female firefighter to work at Montecito Fire District, a fact Wallace has said is very exciting.

During the ceremony, a video was shown which gave the audience a taste of what the academy entailed. Class spokesmen Joshua Brousseau and Ben Hauser gave heartwarming speeches about each recruit, and thanked members of the fire departments with gifts and flowers. Administrative Assistant Ruth Mason, who is retiring after 29 years of service with Santa Barbara City Fire, was given many thanks and a round of applause. The graduates joining Santa Barbara City Fire Department include Brousseau, Andrew Lee, Brian Baxter, Phil Faulding, Joe Mairleitner and Paul Spinale.