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On The Waterfront: District and City Moving Forward with Desalination Talks

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The District is pleased to report that the City of Santa Barbara is moving forward with formal negotiations with Montecito on the use of its desalination facility. Having received support from State regulators for the regional use of the Santa Barbara desalination plant, the City Council recently voted unanimously to open negotiations with the District to participate in it.

The City expressed its support for moving ahead in a recent letter to the District: “The City shares your interest to use our joint resources as efficiently as possible. We also appreciate the long and mutually beneficial relationship we’ve had with the Montecito Water District… We look forward to productive discussions with MWD and are optimistic that we can work together to improve regional water reliability.”

The City and District also signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to move ahead with staff-level discussions and then bring draft agreements to the District Board and City Council for review, comment and approval. The goal is to have an agreement signed by the end of this calendar year.

This is great news, since regional use of the City’s existing, approved desalination facility is the environmentally superior alternative, and provides an economic and financial benefit to both the City and District customers compared to MWD building a second costly, independent facility.

Ocean desalination is only one element of our total water portfolio. The District is continuously working to establish a permanent, long-term water supply portfolio by purchasing and using the best balance of each source for maximum reliability and lowest overall cost.

Water Supply Planning Process is Complex and Consists of Many Changing Elements. Negotiating an agreement for the purchase and conveyance of City desalinated water is the top District water supply priority. At the same time, the District is also pursuing other water supply options, including building its own desalination facility, if necessary, and evaluating the potential for obtaining a new water supply from a proposed ultra-deep well.

The District is emphasizing development of supplies such as desalination and ultra-deep well water to the degree that they are reliable and make economic sense. To help fund these new supplies, MWD is considering selling off part of its State water allocation, but retaining access to the valuable pipeline that allows buying and banking of water all over the state. Establishing realistic deliveries of state water and its monetary value is difficult, since the cost and availability of obtaining this water, and of purchasing excess supplemental water from the State Water Project, is unclear due to the drought and Delta problems.

MWD is also evaluating how it can make up for cut-backs in water allocated from Lake Cachuma, which may be permanently reduced as a result of the drought. The legal and environmental requirements to sustain fish passage on the Santa Ynez River may reduce our annual allocation. The amounts of water involved and costs are still uncertain.

One favorable aspect of the drought is that long-term customer water demand may be reduced. This is due to customers planting water wise landscapes, installing more efficient irrigation systems, and drilling new private wells. With the development of new water supplies, and the anticipated decrease in long-term customer demand, the District is seeking to balance the changes to water supply and demand to achieve long-term water supply sustainability.

Good News: Secured Water Supplies Through Spring 2017. The District is fortunate to have successfully purchased large amounts of supplemental water. This supply, along with the continuing conservation by customers should allow MWD to meet current water demands through spring 2017 even if there is NO RAIN. However, if there is an appreciable amount of rain this winter, the District water supply outlook will be even brighter.

We will keep you informed as we make progress. The key is to get the best balance of cost effectiveness and reliability from all our water sources, both existing and under development. As we make progress and move toward decisions, we will keep you, our customers, updated.

Directors, Montecito Water District