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Desalination Could Mean Increased Rent For Renters

Each day that goes by without rain, Santa Barbara City Water Resources Department moves forward with restarting the desalination plant.

Oct. 1 marks year four of the drought.

“At this point we’re planning for the worst, planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Joshua Haggmark, the acting water resources manager.

To restart the salt-to-fresh water facility is pricy. It will cost $32 million to reactivate the decades-old site and more than $5 million a year to operate it.

The big question is, who will foot the bill?

“Does everyone pay a little bit? Or do we put a lot of the cost on the big users?” said Haggmark.

The Santa Barbara City Council will decide how much residents will be charged for desalinated water no later than November. Residents will then be notified the maximum they could be charged. The amount could always be lower, but not higher than what the notice says.

Haggmark said if everyone pays their share, a single family home could see a water bill increase from around $80 to $100 a month.

For residents who rent, they usually do not see the individual costs like water bills.

“No, we don’t. It’s just part of our rent,” said Molly Lindquist, a renter in Santa Barbara.

Lindquist and her roommates are not sure exactly how much water they use, but what they’re finding out is that their rent could go up if the desal plant is restarted.

NewsChannel 3 spoke with an apartment manager who said the building’s water bill increase would get passed on to the renters. He said it could be as high as $50 extra per month.

Steve Stephanes said the owners of the building he manages would decide whether or not they would increase rent.

“When things end up costing more, people get charged more. I don’t think it’s an unfair amount to be able to make sure our water is secure,” he said.

“I think everyone should be more conscious of how much water they use and they should start to save water so we can all save money,” said Taylor Badois, a renter in Santa Barbara.

Lindquist said she doesn’t see another solution.

“I think it would be OK if it was split between the other roommates. If we’re in a drought, we kind of need the water,” she said.

If the desal plant does get up and running, it would only produce 20 percent of the city’s water needs. The facility could be ramped up to create up to half the water Santa Barbara uses, but that means it would also cost more money.

The city’s plan for now it to keep it on a smaller scale.

“Part of it is to keep the cost down. To go up to that full-sized facility is going to be significant and I think at this point there’s still a lot of variables out there concerning the weather and what we’re going to see,” said Haggmark.

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