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Santa Barbara Desalination Plant Won’t Start Up Until January

A plan to have fresh water from an ocean desalination plant flowing into the system by October in Santa Barbara is behind schedule and that’s causing concerns. A new schedule shows drinking water won’t be produced, tested and approved until January.

A city report says above ground supplies are dwindling, and eight under ground wells are in service citywide.

Conservation goals during the Stage Three drought conditions need to remain at or above 35 percent according to Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark.

Some residents say they have been saving as much as possible for months, letting their landscaping go dry and cutting back on showers. At the same time, water rates have gone up, to cover new costs and to discourage unnecessary usage.

“Inside we actually did just buy a new toilet. It went from 1.8 gallons per flush to 0.8 gallons per flush. That helps out. That and shorten the showers if you can, ” said resident Daniel Brown.

Another resident takes her children to a community pool for recreation instead of spraying water on them in the yard. Stephanie Kollar also said she has let her landscaping die. “We definitely have ‘gold is the new green.’ It’s a little sparse but who needs green grass?,” she said on a walk at Shoreline Park.

The city says it is seeing complications with the final steps of the desalination plant construction and the cost, estimated to be about $55-million, may be going up another $4-million.

The project is aimed at helping the city’s water supply and alone it won’t be enough to serve the area residents without supplemental sources

Some of the issues include soil contamination and technical problems with power supply plans.

Cachuma Lake is currently releasing water to downstream users under an agreement that dates back decades.

Without significant rain this coming winter, the lake may not have enough water for next year’s release and Haggmark said, “it could get scary pretty quickly for the downstream user.”

Cachuma Lake is expected to see some new water from purchases made out of the area, for example, from farmers who had extra unused allocatins in Northern California and sold it to water districts in need. There is also going to be a larger increase from the state water delivery due to the wet winter in many watershed areas in the upper half of the state.

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