Wednesday, August 13, 2008

City leaders agree to study desal rehabilitation

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

After weighing in on a proposal to examine what it would take to rehabilitate the city’s desalination plant, which converts seawater into drinking water, Santa Barbara city leaders approved a $122,000 study to look into the cost, timeline and regulatory issues surrounding such an action.

Although leaders disagreed about the merits of the study, ultimately approving it by a 4-2 margin, they seemed in agreement that actually bringing the facility back online to boost the city’s regular water supply is not a possibility.
“There seems to be a degree of confusion out there about what this is all about,” Councilmember Roger Horton said.
Devising a way to use the plant on a regular basis, despite its exorbitant costs and high energy usage, is not what the study is all about, he said.
“That’s not my understanding of what we’re trying to do today,” Horton said.
Rebecca Bjork, the city’s acting water resources manager, echoed those sentiments, calling the study a technical examination of the physical infrastructure that is necessary to update the city’s Long Term Water Supply Plan.
“We are not suggesting any changes to the way we use desal,” she said. “We need this information only for planning for future uses of our water supplies.”
The study consists of two stages — a preliminary look at the equipment, followed by detailed examination of any specific components that need further attention. A brief survey of technological advancements in the field of desalination is also planned.
Although Councilmember Helene Schneider said a baseline study of what it would take to get the facility up and running again is appropriate, she disagreed with the second phase of the project.
“This is one more step farther toward turning on the switch,” she said. “I want to be very careful about even getting any closer to turning on the switch.”
Councilmember Das Williams took his argument further, saying the city should vote down the study as a matter of principle.
“We should be fully vetting how much conservation is possible and what money that takes to achieve,” he said. “…We shouldn’t be looking at desal and then conservation. We should be looking at conservation and then desal.”
He also argued that the study should include a complete analysis of what it would take to build an alternative energy plant to supply power for the desalination facility. Running the facility with existing power supplies would destroy any progress the city has made toward sustainability, Williams said.
His final problem with the study related to other cities in the area, which he said would likely draw on Santa Barbara’s water supply in the event of a drought.
“If other agencies have an interest in desal, they should help us with the study cost,” he said.
But the remaining members of the council said the study is appropriate in the context of keeping the city’s long-term water supply plan updated.
“This is an asset,” Councilmember Dale Francisco said in reference to the desalination plant. “It’s an incredible asset. … We really need to know how much it’s going to cost and how much it’s going to take if we need it.”
He added that should other cities in the area draw from Santa Barbara’s water supply during a drought or similar emergency, they would have to reimburse the city.
Ultimately, the council approved the study with a four-vote majority; Schneider and Williams voted against the proposal.

2 comments:

because Goleta sprawl needs the SB share of the water said...

Anyone who suspects the city will use that desal water for more development simply must be "confused" while at the same time staff says "We need this information only for planning for future uses of our water supplies."

And what would those "future uses" be?

I heart urban sprawl said...

How else will Goleta be able to continue its plans for urban sprawl at Bishop Ranch and Glen Annie golf course, unless new water is developed by City of Santa Barbara that can be sold to Goleta Water District?

No agency will develop new water, as by desalination, and then not sell it to generate revenue, as to Goleta Water District and all the new LA-LA people who move to these new urban sprawl projects in Goleta.