Even with an urgent call to conserve water, Santa Barbara is about to lay out a "rate reality check" for customers dealing with the prolonged drought.
The city has agreed to hire a company for $746,000 to report on what it will take to rebuild and restart the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant. It has been shut down since the early 1990's, right after it was built and tested at a cost of about $34 million. After years of drought, the rain returned and water supplies were replenished. The plant was no longer needed.
The current serious lack of rainfall and grim projections ahead have city leaders looking at ways to bring more water into the system from the ocean, other counties, or from under ground.
Acting Water Resources Manager, Joshua Haggmark says he is not going to look to the skies and hope for a rain cloud. "For us to plan that things will be all better next year, it's bad planning. "I'm not going to be caught at the helm doing that."
About six months ago, there were estimates around $20 million to put the plant back on line. It may be higher by the time the construction and operating costs are calculated.
"It is expensive. We are looking at $30 million dollars in capital to build this facility and five million a year to operate it. The operational costs are very expensive," said Haggmark. "It is a lot of money that's why we are proceeding cautiously, but if is you only alternative for water to meet our community needs, I think it is the direction we need to go. Who knows about this drought? This drought is unprecidented so far."
Even thought the desalination plant has been shut down for more than 20 years, the fact that the city has the location and underground piping could prove to be a benefit if Santa Babara decides to restart it once again.
"We have the piping that goes out into the ocean already. We have the platform in the ocean where the equipment was sitting, we have brought that on shore and we have a lot of the back bone. We know how it will tie into our system already and how it will function," said Haggmark.
The city wants its options and costs in real numbers as soon as possible.
There will be a water supply report later this month to talk about the Stage Two drought emergency.
The desalination report is expected in September.
In the meantime, the city is also looking to purchase water supplies that are available in the San Luis Reservoir and from a supply in Kern County.