On the Water Front

by Bob Hazard

Desalination Celebrates One-Year Anniversary

Santa Barbara mayor Cathy Murillowas able to take a well-deserved bow last week as she and Josh Haggmark, City Water Resources manager; Cathy Taylor, Water Systems manager; Randy Rowseand other civic leaders celebrated the one-year anniversary of the reopening of the City’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant. All hailed the addition of desalinated water as a reliable water source added to the City’s diverse water portfolio.

Impressively, the rehabbed desalination plant is currently producing 3 million gallons of drinking water per day, or 30% of the City’s water supply, some 3,125 acre-feet per year (AFY) of “ocean to tap” water.

On hand, and available for interviews, was Gilad Cohen, CEO of IDE Americas, designer, builder, and operator of the local desal plant. IDE Americas also designed and was part of the construction team that built the new 50-million-gallons-per-day Poseidon Water desalination plant in Carlsbad, California, which produces desalinated water for San Diego County. IDE also built three desalination plants in Israel, enabling that desert country to be the only country in the Middle East to “go green.”

In 2014, Israel’s desalination programs produced roughly 35% of Israel’s drinking water. By June 2015, roughly 50% of Israel’s overall water sources came from desalination. By 2050, that percentage of desalinated water is projected to reach 70%.

The Israeli record should serve as a guidepost for coastal California, which is still clinging to an increasingly unreliable, antiquated 1950s technology of pumping vanishing northern snowpack from the High Sierras, conveyed through Lake Orville to the Sacramento Delta; then pumped through 660 miles of canals and pipelines to a complex of regulating reservoirs.

How energy-efficient is that? Should coastal urban areas deprive farmers and inland cities of needed state water?

History of Desalination

Funded jointly by the City of Santa Barbara, the Montecito Water District and the Goleta Water District, the original desalination plant, finished in 1991 at a cost of $34 million, had a capacity of 7,500 AFY of desalinated water, more than twice the production capacity of the current plant.

The Montecito Water District had an entitlement of 1,250 AFY; the Goleta Water District had an entitlement of 3,069 AFY, while the City had entitlement to 3,181 AFY. Costs were shared proportionately.

The original desalination plant operated for three months between March and June 1992, before abundant rainfall led to placing the plant into standby mode. On October 15, 1996, the California Coastal Commission issued a Coastal Development Permit to the City for permanent desalination facilities up to a maximum capacity of 10,000 AFY.

Foolishly, Montecito and Goleta failed to renew their five-year contract for water, preferring not to incur modest costs for permanent permits and standby maintenance charges.

In July 2015, faced with still another long-term drought, the city council voted unanimously to reactivate the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant. In May 2017, after start-up testing, the City began distributing desalinated water into the City’s water system.

Pass the Water; Skip the Salt

The updated desalination plant supplies a new source of potable water to City residents for household use, plus the preservation of trees and plants, regardless of rainfall or drought, thanks to the availability of the largest reservoir on the planet, the Pacific Ocean, right at our doorstep, containing a third of all the water on Earth.

Drawing a tiny amount of water from the vast Pacific Ocean reservoir makes more ecological sense than building new surface reservoirs inland at an estimated cost of a billion dollars each, and then attaching them to the overloaded State Water System, or spending $22 billion for the governor’s pet Twin Tunnels project.

Montecito Participation

Neither the City nor the Montecito Water District (MWD) is in a position to discuss the details of negotiations at this time, as they work toward a water purchase agreement. However, many of the details are already public knowledge.

Montecito is seeking the City’s commitment to provide a 50-year supply of 1,250 AFY from the City, with the City retaining the discretion to supply Montecito with State Water, imported water, Cachuma or Gibraltar water, groundwater, and, of course, desal.

The City uses approximately 10,000 AFY of water. Pre-drought usage was approximately 14,000 AFY. The Montecito Water District currently uses approximately 4,000 AFY. Pre-drought usage was approximately 6,500 AFY.

Water Projections

With the election of Floyd Wicksand Tobe Ploughto the Montecito Water Board in November 2016, shared development expense agreements were signed, and good-faith negotiations began between professional engineers on both sides to develop costs and terms for a water agreement with the City.

Under current permits, the City is allowed to nearly triple its desalination plant capacity from 3,125 AFY up to 10,000 AFY. The intake system has already been sized to accommodate the 10,000 AFY; the modular seawater treatment process is expandable, as needed, by adding additional trains; the outflow system to carry the desalinated water from the seaside plant up to the Mission for highline City users, and then on to the Cater Water Treatment Plant for connection to the South Coast Conduit, is in final design.

Desalination Plant Cost

Capital costs to reactivate the desalination plant were $72 million, financed over 20 years at a super-low 1.6% interest rate, which equates to $4.2 million in annual debt service.

A $10 million state grant was awarded to the City in the spring of 2018 by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) from the $7.5 billion in Prop 1 state funding passed by the voters in November 2014 to improve California’s water reliability.

Annual operating costs are estimated to be about $4.1 million at full production. Ralph Felix, IDE America’s plant manager, noted that the new desal plant is so automated that it only requires a staff of 12 people for 24/7 operation. Amazingly, the plant can be monitored from a home laptop, but at least two operators are present on each shift for contingencies.


Seawater Intake System

Seawater enters the City’s desalination plant from 2,500 feet offshore, passing through wedge wire screens made of a durable copper-nickel alloy that have one-millimeter openings to minimize marine life entrapment and impingement. The one-millimeter openings are the size of a paper clip.

Treatment of Intake Water

A combination of intake screens, static mixers, gravity filters, and RO filters remove suspended solids. The system removes sediment, bacteria, viruses, and minerals (including salt).

The guts of the plant are the salt-removing modular reverse osmosis (RV) membrane trains that process the sea water. High-pressure pumps push the water through semi-permeable membranes at 850 pounds per square inch to remove salt and dissolved minerals and other impurities. Outflows include: 1) desalted water for further treatment and 2) concentrated brine.

Brine Treatment

The brine leaving the plant is roughly twice as salty as normal seawater, so it is diluted with a small portion of the City’s treated wastewater before being discharged back into the ocean 1½ miles offshore.

Mineralization & Outflow

The desalted water goes through a further disinfection, re-mineralization, and chlorination process. For use in the northern tier of the City, and for possible use in Montecito, the desalinated water can be pumped to the Cater Water Treatment plant, allowing MWD to receive its share of treated Cachuma water, state water, or desal water from the City through the South Coast Conduit.

Recycling Wastewater

The City has recently completed a potable reuse feasibility study for expanded use of recycled water. Advanced treatment of recycled water could allow for either indirect potable use through injection into its groundwater basin, or direct potable reuse when that use is permitted by California law.

Environmentally Responsible

The reactivated plant uses 40% less energy than the original design, reducing power demand and carbon footprint. Some residents question whether a sub-surface intake system should be required to replace the current open ocean intake system. The City conducted a lengthy study that concluded that sub-surface intakes are not feasible at this time for multiple reasons, among which are negative impacts to sensitive habitats in Mission Lagoon and unproven technology.

Potential Benefits

MWD believes that a water purchase agreement, with no ownership and no residual value by MWD, creates a major revenue stream for the City, allowing it to reduce both its current plant capital costs and operating cost loads on City ratepayers.

In addition, MWD believes that adding a new train to the desal plant to process an additional 2,500 AFY of desalinated water, at the City’s option, not only drops the unit production cost for both parties, but it blunts City ratepayer criticism that the City is providing its own water to benefit Montecito.

Win-Win negotiations always seem to work best in the rare instances that they can be negotiated and agreed to by rational potential partners.

Montecito Update

by Kelly Mahan

Roundabout Meeting Next Week

Next Wednesday, August 29, Montecito residents are encouraged to attend a community meeting and open house to learn more about two roundabouts that are slated to be built in Montecito.

The more widely discussed roundabout project is slated for the corner of Olive Mill Road and Coast Village Road, and will include a northbound exit and southbound entrance to Highway 101. The lesser-known project, which many Hedgerow neighbors have voiced concern about, places a roundabout at the corner of San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane, and includes a northbound entrance and southbound exit from Highway 101. The two projects are being considered “parallel projects” to the Highway 101 widening.

Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) has been working closely with staff from both the City of Santa Barbara and County of Santa Barbara to continue progress on these projects, and while the Olive Mill roundabout has been in the works since that time, the new roundabout at San Ysidro Road was only deemed necessary after it was determined the intersection at San Ysidro and North Jameson fell short on meeting the level of service required by the County. A number of alternatives were considered for both sides of the San Ysidro Road bridge, including roundabouts at both intersections on San Ysidro (one near the Miramar and one at North Jameson), as well as alternatives showing various combinations of all-way stops, traffic lights, and roundabouts.

The recommendation of evaluators was a combination of a roundabout at the north intersections and all-way-stop-control at the south intersections. According to County reps, this configuration meets County and Montecito Community Plan level of service requirements, addresses potential backups on the freeway off-ramps, provides continuity to the regional frontage road system with Olive Mill and Coast Village Road, minimizes footprint and impacts, and improves pedestrian and bicycle access through the interchange.

Both roundabouts are in the preliminary design phase with no firm dates on design completion or construction.

The Community Meeting and Open House is scheduled for Wednesday, August 29, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at Chase Palm Park Center, 236 E. Cabrillo Blvd. For more information about the meeting, contact Walter Rubalcava, County Project manager, at Wrebalc@cosbpw.net.

Candidates Announced for November Election

Earlier this week, five local residents announced their candidacy for November’s upcoming election in which Montecito residents will be asked to fill three seats on the Montecito Water District (MWD) Board of Directors and two seats on the Montecito Sanitary District (MSD) Board of Directors. Calling themselves “the Montecito and Summerland Water Security Team,” the slate of candidates includes Woody Barrettand Dana Newquist(both running for MSD), and Cori Hayman, Ken Coates, and Brian Goebel(all three running for MWD).

The slate of candidates has built a platform on several key points, including major improvements in water infrastructure and wastewater management strategies, collaboration between local water districts including the Montecito Sanitary District and the Summerland Sanitary District and between the Montecito Water District and Montecito Sanitary District, conservation, recycled water, and groundwater management.

According to the candidates, the current drought crisis warrants support of major improvements in water infrastructure and wastewater management strategies. “Water security focuses on diversification or our water portfolio, and that means smartly harvesting and managing every drop of water on this side of the mountain,” said Coates, the head of the Water Security Team. “Water diversification includes pursuing an agreement with the City of Santa Barbara for desalinated water, a process that has progressed slowly because of missteps in the past. Cooperation here can be beneficial both to the City with lower costs and provide water security for the Montecito and Summerland communities. The current plan relies too much on imported state water, leaving the community at risk, especially during a record-breaking drought,” he said.

The Montecito Water District also serves Summerland, and Goebel, a candidate for the MWD, has close ties to both communities and noted the Summerland Sanitary District is exploring the idea of using recycled water to recharge groundwater. “Regional cooperation between agencies is key to ensuring water security,” he said.

The group also sees a major opportunity in recycled water. “Recycled water offers huge potential for not just landscaping needs, but can also be treated sufficiently to a level where it could be used to recharge groundwater supplies, which means a guaranteed built-in local supply,” said Barrett, a professional geologist and small business owner who raised his children in Montecito. He questions the current Board of the Sanitary District’s plan to build a new $3,500,000 building for four employees of the district. “I believe the money would be better spent on state-of-the-art equipment to clean the wastewater to a higher level, making it available to indirect potable use as recycled water for landscaping and/or groundwater recharge.”

“No one should confuse the pilot project currently planned by the Montecito Sanitary District as actual support for recycled water. It’s a small-scope, stand-alone project that will only water the district’s own lawn,” said Newquist, a former Montecito Fire Protection District director, running for the Sanitary District. “We waste up to 500,000 gallons of water a day by dumping partially treated sewage water just offshore at Butterfly Beach. During a prolonged, severe drought, this is hardly environmentally friendly. We can recycle that water, preserve our beautiful environmental resources, and bolster our water supply.”

The group says groundwater management is key to ensuring a stable water supply. “Groundwater is a key component of our water portfolio supply, and it’s the only reliable local supply. We must protect our groundwater basin. We now have a great opportunity to recharge it with ‘gold standard’ recycled water that has been subjected to the highest level of cleaning. This would help make well-owners less vulnerable to groundwater depletion,” said Hayman, who is running for MWD’s Board. Hayman has a background in regulatory law and has been an active community advocate as a board member on the Montecito Association.

The slate of candidates sees the future of water security for the area in diversifying the current water supply portfolio by accelerating the desalination agreement timeline with the City of Santa Barbara, pursuing groundwater management and recharge by implementing recycled water on a significant scale, conservation, and partnering with neighboring agencies.

“We are in a new era where very drop of water counts,” said Coates. “Continued severe drought and the vulnerability we experienced after the debris flow demand that we pursue a resilient, secure water future for Montecito and Summerland. The time for us to build the water and sanitary districts of the future is now.”

The candidates will vie for two seats on the Montecito Sanitary District Board currently held by incumbents Judy Ishkanianand Bob Williams. Three seats are up for grabs at Montecito Water District; incumbent Dick Shaikewitz is running for re-election. Directors Doug Morganand Sam Fryeare stepping down from the board as their terms are coming to a close.

We’ll have much more on the elections as they approach.

Sheriff’s Blotter

Friday, 17 August, 2 pm– Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the area of Hot Springs Trailhead on a report of a suspicious vehicle that was parked near the trailhead since August 13. The solo male occupant was last seen walking up the trailhead. The vehicle was registered to Wayne Habell, of Newhall, who was listed as an at-risk missing person out of Los Angeles County.

Sheriff’s deputies, the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit and Santa Barbara Search and Rescue team members responded and began an extensive search of the area. The search teams were unable to locate Mr. Habell due to darkness, and the search was called off until the morning.

At 6 pm on August 18, a male decedent was located in the canyon. The body was taken to the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office for further investigation. The identity of the decedent was later determined to be 43-year-old Wayne Stuart Habell. The cause and manner of death was a suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Habell was a 13-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and had gone missing earlier in the week.