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Reactivation of Santa Barbara Desalination Plant Moving Forward

On February 2, 2015 the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (“CCWB”) approved a permit to restart the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant (“Meyer Plant’) to bring a much needed source of drinking water back to Santa Barbara. With the Cachuma and Gibralter Reservoirs at low levels due to low rainfall, the City’s main water sources left them with few options. The production capacity of the plant is 7,500 acre-feet per year, with the ability to be expanded to 10,000 acre-feet per year with additions to the plant.

The City Council made a recommended budget of $746,025 for preliminary design services in order to re-commission the facility via a City Professional Services Contract with Carollo Engineers, Inc. Other proposed costs by the City include $74,603 for extra services that may be deemed necessary by Carollo. Another City Professional Contract was proposed at $90,000 with McCabe and Company, Inc. to support the City’s Coastal Development Permit for the plant. Legal service contracts are budgeted at a City Professional Contract with Hanson Bridgett LLP for $25,000.

“The City agreed to perform mitigation measures including adding an updated screen technology to the intake and applying $500,000 towards a coastal restoration project approved by the Regional Water Board prior to reactivation of the desalination facility,” according to a California Water Boards media release.

In addition, the City has committed to studying the possibility of replacing open-ocean intake (at surface level) with intakes installed beneath the ocean bottom. This would decrease the harmful effects to the marine ecology that is a concern when putting a desalination plant into service. Sub-surface intake brings in water from on-shore saline aquifers that have lower salinity levels and less solid matter, natural contaminants, oil and grease. The water in this intake system has already been pre-filtered by sand on its way into the aquifer. Open-ocean intake brings in water with more potential natural contaminants and higher salinity levels. City plans to have this research done by 2017 to implement any possible changes.

El Estero Waste Water Treatment Facility, located nearby the desalination plant, proposed an order to be passed to make sure that the effluents from the WWTO and the desalination plants brine are safe to coexist in the ocean once they are both released. Were the brine and effluents to mix at high concentrations, more serious damage could occur in the marine ecosystems. The order also included adding 12.5 million gallons per day of brine waste to the flow of the WWTP.

According to the Council Agenda Report for the construction of a final effluent sampler station in June 2014, “if the Desalination Plant is re-commissioned, staff will move forward with constructing a final effluent sampling station, per the preliminary design recommendations.” Now that the permit has passed, it is implementation of the station is crucial in order to make sure the mixtures from these two facilities don’t cause any serious damage to the marine environments.

The Meyer Plant was originally constructed as a result to the water crisis of the late 1980s as an emergency supply facility for Santa Barbara. It was used as a drought-time water source from 1986 to 1991. After that, the plant was deemed unnecessary until further need, as the natural water supply and rainfall had increased in the area. After four years of extremely low levels of rainfall in the area, the City of Santa Barbara declared drought on February 11, 2014—spurring the idea of activating the Meyer plant once again in hopes of alleviating the ever growing issue of water shortage in California.

Written by Stratecon Staff