Santa Barbara turning to desal to curb drought

May 20, 2014

desaltThe city of Santa Barbara is preparing to open its untapped desalination plant in order to cope with the ongoing drought. [KEYT]

Santa Barbara constructed the plant in 1991 following a five-year drought, but the city only used it in test runs. Sufficient rain arrived as the plant was constructed, and the city has since considered it a reserve water source.

But, the city council is expected to declare a stage 2 drought on Wednesday, and Santa Barbara officials say residents will need desalinated water by 2017, if the current drought continues.

Opening the desalination plant will require considerable funding and overcoming regulatory hurdles. The plant would cost approximately $29 million to restart and $5 million to operate on an annual basis.

The city must gain approval from several state and regional agencies before operating the plant. Santa Barbara officials will meet Wednesday in Sacramento with representatives of several state agencies, including the California Coastal Commission and State Water Resources Control Board.


One of the reasons it will be so expensive to get the desal plant going again is because SB sold off most of the guts of the system to special interests Saudi Arabia.

The problem with the original plant was that, from the beginning, to operate it required so much electricity that it was financially unfeasible. One would think that SB would have figured this out BEFORE they settled on the design of the desal plant…but that is a discussion for another time.


Wave, wind, and solar for the power generation needs.

The so-called ‘free market’ refuses to do it, so it must be up to the combined efforts of government to do it ….just like the Hoover Dam and the Interstate Highway System were built , and would not have been ever attempted by ‘the capitalists’.

Fuddy-duddy ‘conservatives’ are not merely ‘do-nothings’ ….they’re ‘will never do anythings’ !

Francesca Bolognini

No one even mentions conservation, gray water, recycled water, etc. In the middle east there are techniques that draw hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the air. Seems like a lot of you want to go straight to nuclear waste and toxic salt waste to solve an insatiatable need to do as you please with resources. Many of us are living on 25 gallons of water a day at present in Cambria, even though we were granted 50 to conserve our supply. If we can do it, so could every one else. Not to mention that many people have replaced extremely wasteful appliances with more effecient ones. People have devised systems to catch rain water (it falls from the sky for free) and are reusing rinse water for outside plants.

There are other techniques for increasing available water, such as off stream storage in the hills and reclaimation. All would be MUCH CHEAPER and CLEANER than desal, with NO NUCLEAR or TOXIC SALT WASTE to leave behind for the future generations and wildlife to contend with. Please make at least a small attempt to envision where your policies will lead and what we leave behind.


Perhaps the SB City Council should follow in the steps of visionary Jamie Irons.

Their SB desal is not far enough from the ocean. Don’t fire it up, annihilate the entire plant, move it way up the canyon past Cathedral Oaks, ask the Coastal Commission to declare the older one status non-grata, and start a completely NEW desal plant construction,

out of the coastal zone,

up some visionary canyon location, and

not $ 29,000,000 to start up, but maybe $ 60,000,000+ ?

Just like Morro Bay. Irons did a lunatic action killing MB plant. Lunatics attract followers.


I hope you’re not trying to compare SB desal plant and MB sewage treatment plant, talk about apples and not even oranges, more like apples and pizza or ?????


Morro Bay’s desal plant is ready to run, pending updated certification (neglected by former council majority). Desal plant does not need to be moved up away from the coast, it is not a wastewater treatment plant, and can operate in a coastal flood plain.

CA Coastal Commission denied the MB wastewater treatment plant twice. Former council members Carla Borchard and Nancy Johnson voted to continue the misguided crusade to keep the plant in it’s current location knowing that the CCC would deny it again.

Former city manager and city attorney were instrumental in allocating close to $2.5 million of the taxpayers money in pursuing that folly. The citizens of Morro Bay overwhelmingly voted in Irons because previous council would have continued down the path of wasting huge amounts of time and money on a project that could never be done at the current location.

The year is now 2014 yet you continue to live in 1994. So much for “Bringing Morro Bay Together.”


There is a huge amount of water in the aquifer under Cachuma Lake. Desalination is very expensive and uses a tremendous amount of electricity which generates a great deal of greenhouse gas unless they operate at night when there is power from Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. The process would be more efficient if they used recycled waste water mixed with the sea water.


True, desal uses a huge amount of electricity. If the Grandmas Against Nuclear have their way, all of California will be choking on CO2 and worse because they want to close Diablo down.


“The city must gain approval from several state and regional agencies before operating the plant.”

good luck


I’m sure if the city funnels enough taxpayer funds, in the form of fees, permits, or such, the state and other agencies will be happy to give their approval.

Niles Q

They were stupid to moth-ball the thing and sell off key pieces of equipment in the first place.

Talk about a boondoggle and waste of taxpayer’s money.


Get on board, Cambria.