Environment & Science

Santa Barbara city council votes to spend millions re-opening desalination plant

In this April 25, 2014 photo, Joshua Haggmark, interim resources manager for Santa Barbara, Calif., stands next to a desalination plant, which removes salt from ocean water, in Santa Barbara, Calif.  The city is considering restarting the plant as California withers in a drought.
In this April 25, 2014 photo, Joshua Haggmark, interim resources manager for Santa Barbara, Calif., stands next to a desalination plant, which removes salt from ocean water, in Santa Barbara, Calif. The city is considering restarting the plant as California withers in a drought.
Alicia Chang/AP

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Santa Barbara is going to blow the dust off a long-mothballed desalination plant, which could eventually serve a quarter of the city's water supply. 

The Charles E. Meyer desalination facility cost about $35 million to build when it was completed in 1992, but it was shut down almost immediately, when heavy rains ended an ongoing drought.

Under conservation rules this time around, Santa Barbara water customers have cut water use by 24 percent. Still, local officials say it’s worth it to invest another $54 million to reopen a re-engineered version of the plant.

Water bills in Santa Barbara are likely to rise this summer. Even with low-interest loans from the state, the plant will cost $7.3 million a year to operate, making the price of sea water a third higher than the price of water imported from elsewhere in California.

An environmental group has raised objections about the facility’s potential impact to coastal marine life, but its spokesman also told local newspapers she doesn’t intend to sue. 

Once open, the facility may be able to sell water to neighboring districts.