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Desalination Plant Could Cost $20 Million To Open Again

By Victoria Sanchez, KEYT - KCOY - KKFX Anchor/Reporter, victoriasanchez@keyt.com
Published On: Feb 12 2014 08:22:43 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 12 2014 11:03:44 PM CST

Desalination Plant Could Operate Again

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

City officials aren't waiting for the rain and are looking at ways to restart the decades-old desalination plant.

The plant turns saltwater from the ocean into drinkable water. It was built in 1991 as a temporary emergency water supply in response to severe drought and finished a year later. The plant was shut down in 1992 because of abundant rainfall.

The desalination facility is on Yanonali Street. The tall gate does not open often and what's inside the buildings are a blast from the past.

"It really is a time capsule to walk through some of this," said Joshua Haggmark, the acting water resources manager.

Inside one room, the permits on the wall are dated November 1995.

The control room used lights on a board to indicate if there was a problem.

The computers on the property are also outdated.

"Outfited with a 5-inch, 3 1/2 inch floppy and a tape drive. It's just kind of facinating," said Haggmark.

The facility hasn't pumped water through the pipes for more than two decades. When it did, it was only for two months.

"The price tag on it when it was originally built was $34 million," said Haggmark.

At the time, the voters bought into the desalination idea to help ease water woes.

Two 7-feet tall pumps sit on a side of the property. They used to be  about three-quarters of a mile off the Santa Barbara coast. It would pump water from the ocean to the desalination plant.

They were taken out in the mid-'90s but if the desal plant is restarted, two more would go back into the water.

To open the facility again it would cost an estimated to cost $20 million.

Haggmark believes conservation is not only critical -- it's the cheapest thing to do.

Santa Barbara declared a Stage One drought this week, meaning residents are being asked to cut back on 20 percent of their water use.

"This desal facility is a symbol of buying your way out of a drought and it is an expensive proposition," he said.

It's not just restarting the plant that is costly, the water from the pumps could cost 20 times the current rates.

It will still take another two years before the plant is ready.

For now, water officials are doing preliminary work, like pre-design, checking on permits and figuring out exactly how much it would cost to restart.

And there's the question of where the money would come from if the plant did reopen.

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