Santa Barbara, California is fast running out of ideas to provide water during this drought, but it still has one more card in its hand.
The city has an inactive desalination plant that was completed in 1991 but was left tested but unused due to a “miracle rain” that occurred shortly afterward.
It would cost as much as $40 million to reactivate the plant, but the city is prepared to consider it if the drought holds up much longer.
Fox News reports:
It’s a supply of last resort,” Santa Barbara Director of Public Works Rebecca Baork told FoxNews.com. “We’re glad we have it, but I wish it would rain.”
Last month, the city of 90,000 got approval from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to reactivate the plant, according to Noozhawk. The next step is a green light from the powerful California Coastal Commission. But to get the plant back up and running, the city will have to invest in new filters, pay an engineering firm to write up a reactivation plan for the facility and have major rehabilitation work done to the plant. But purifying Pacific Ocean water sucked in from three-quarters of a mile out to sea may be the only option left for Santa Barbara. The city has trucked in water from far-away locations and put restrictions on usage that have left lawns brown and flowers wilted.
The conservation efforts cut usage by nearly a quarter for the period from July to December.
The city has been in a Stage II drought since May 2014. Stage III is as bad as it gets, said Santa Barbara water resources manager, Joshua Haggmark. He believes Santa Barbara could reach that flashpoint as early as May.”
It is risky to reopen the plant on several fronts: one being the cost and the other being the fact that desalinated seawater may be bad for the plumbing, not to mention the fact that the drought may end soon with rainfall predicted.
Santa Barbara is lucky to have this as an option but will have to very carefully consider whether or not it’s worth using.
Inframanage.com found the quoted production costs of water in this article to be instructive – $100 per acre-foot for traditional sources compared with $1,500 per acre-foot for desalinated water production, that is 15 times as much. The $40 million plant restart cost is also not insignificant.
Santa Barbara has the option of restarting this plant available to them, but it is an expensive option.
Analyzing future demand is an integral part of infrastructure management resources planning, and for water utilities, part of that analysis includes:
- growth and demand trends,
- demand management options and
- security of current and future water supply.
In areas where drought has potential major effects on water sources and security of supply then the issue of drought cycles and effects will need to be addressed in your infrastructure management plans.
There is a range of asset and non-asset solutions that can be brought into the mix. With longer-term planning and wide-ranging community consultation, durable and affordable solutions to the security of supply requirements can be developed.
Achieving durable long-term solutions, community and regulator agreement can take years or even decades – which is of no help in the middle of a drought but does highlight the need to do the planning.
Unfortunately, there are many examples worldwide of very expensive short-term solutions to drought conditions being implemented that then prove to be relatively unaffordable longer term for the community.
Infrastructure management planning is all about developing an optimal whole of lifecycle long term delivery of services, and unfortunately, short term ’emergency’ situations and solutions do not lend themselves to this approach.
PHOTO CREDIT: Santa Barbara Train Station by Wendell via Flickr Creative Commons License.