Monday, August 4, 2008

City to discuss desalination


Santa Barbara city leaders are slated to talk over history of the city’s desalination plant and possibly give the green light to a study to evaluate the feasibility of bringing the decommissioned facility back online.
City officials plan to meld the discussion with an overall assessment of the city’s water supply during the ongoing General Plan update process and expect the study to shed light on how much it might cost to rehabilitate the facility.

“Having a reliable water supply is critical to Santa Barbara residents,” Rebecca Bjork, acting water resources manager, wrote in a staff report. “Understanding the role that desalination plays in providing a sustainable water supply is important to updating the [Long Term Water Supply Program] and the General Plan.”
The proposed study would evaluate the technical and regulatory hurdles to bringing the plant back online; develop cost estimates for rehabilitation and maintenance; and identify any improvements to the existing facility that could increase performance, minimize energy use and reduce costs.
City officials are proposing a contract with Carollo Engineers to perform the study for a maximum of $122,000. Funds are available in the city’s water fund and have been approved for use by the Water Commission.
Built in the early ‘90s as an emergency measure following years of severe drought, the Charles Meyer Desalination Facility has been sitting in standby mode at 525 E. Yanonali St. for the past decade.
When initially built, the plant had a capacity of 7,500 acre-feet per year, or about 2.5 billion gallons of water. Half of that capacity was dedicated to the Goleta and Montecito Water Districts, both of which opted out of project following a five-year contract period to pay off the $34 million construction cost.
Due to adequate rainfall since the early 90s, city officials decided to decommission the facility and remove components that require frequent maintenance to reduce annual costs by approximately $500,000.
Eight years ago, the city sold off half of the plant’s treatment modules, leaving its current capacity at 3,125 acre-feet per year. In order to bring the facility back online, workers would have to supplement the basic infrastructure that remains intact with mechanical components and filtration membranes.
At last estimate, the cost of filtering seawater reached upwards of $1,100 per acre-foot, including labor, chemicals, maintenance and a replacement fund for worn parts. One aspect of the study involves developing updated cost estimates for operating the facility.
City leaders will discuss moving forward with a planning study at their weekly meeting tomorrow.

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