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Project Status

The Charles E. Meyer Desalination Facility is currently in the startup phase. Water quality testing is expected to occur through mid/late April and, depending on results, the Desal Plant could be actively producing water supply by mid May. The facility will use state-of-the-art technology and design practices to reduce electrical demand and environmental impacts, while providing a critical water supply for the City. The facility was originally anticipated to supply water to the distribution system starting in October but has encountered delays due to contaminated soils on site and replacement of electrical transmission pieces from the old (1990s) facility.

The facility will produce nearly 3 million gallons per day. This is equivalent to 3,125 acre-feet of water annually or about 30% of the City’s demand. The desalination facility is an important part of the City’s water supply portfolio which also includes surface water from Cachuma and Gibraltar reservoirs, groundwater, State water, purchased water, recycled water, and conservation. When the desalination facility comes online, extraordinary water conservation from the community will remain critical to meeting water demands. At additional expense, the City has the option to expand the facility, up to the permitted capacity of 10,000 acre-feet of water annually, if drought conditions continue and additional water is needed.

The capital costs to reactivate the facility (at a capacity of 3,125 acre-feet per year) are estimated at $70 million financed over 20 years with a low 1.6% interest rate loan, which equates to $4.2 million per year in debt service. Annual operating costs are estimated to be about $4.1 million at full production and about $1.4 million in non-operation or standby mode. The facility could be put in standby mode during rainy periods to reduce operating costs.

City Council awarded IDE Americas, Inc. a design/build/operate contract to re-commission the desalination plant. The design includes a screened ocean intake structure equipped with openings of 1 mm, diluted and diffused brine discharge, and high-efficiency pumps and motors to reduce the plant’s overall electrical power demands.

Improvements in Desalination Technology

A lot has changed in desalination technology since the facility was built in 1991.

The reactivated facility…

  • Will use 40% less energy than the original design, greatly reducing its electricity demand and carbon footprint, by using high-efficiency pumps, motors and improved filter technology.

  • Will use ocean intake pipes equipped with wedge wire screens recognized by the State Water Resources Control Board as a best available technology for screened open ocean intakes.  The screens will be made of durable copper-nickel alloy and will have 1 millimeter openings to minimize marine life entrapment and impingement. 

Additional Information:

A Brief History

In the face of a challenging water supply crisis in the late 1980’s, the City of Santa Barbara (City) constructed a seawater desalination facility as an emergency supply. The production capacity of the facility was 7,500 acre feet per year (AFY) with the potential for expansion up to 10,000 AFY.  The neighboring water districts of Montecito and Goleta contracted for entitlements of 1,250 AFY and 3,069 AFY, respectively, during the five year contract period.  The City had entitlement to 3,181 AFY.  All sharing of costs for construction was based on these entitlements.

After the plant was constructed, it was operated between March and June of 1992.  Due to abundant rainfall in the 1991-1992 winter and subsequent winters, the City’s drought condition was relieved and the desalination plant was placed into a standby mode.  The $34 million total construction cost was paid off during the initial 5-year contract period by the City, Goleta Water District, and Montecito Water District, with a City share of approximately $14.5 million.  However, the Goleta and Montecito Water Districts did not elect to extend or renew their interest in the facility after the initial five year contract period.

On June 4, 1991, City voters elected to make desalination a permanent part of the City’s water supply portfolio. With the approval of the Long Term Water Supply Program on July 5, 1994 (LTWSP1994) the City added the desalination facility to its permanent sources of water. An Environmental Impact Report on the LTWSP1994 was certified on May 24, 1994. On October 15, 1996, the California Coastal Commission issued a Coastal Development Permit to the City for permanent desalination facilities up to a maximum capacity of 10,000 AFY.  The permit provided for intermittent and base load operation. Due to sufficient freshwater supplies since 1991, the facility remained in long-term standby mode for reactivation when water supply demand cannot be met using all other available supplies including extraordinary water conservation.

On July 21, 2015, in response to exceptional drought conditions, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to reactivate the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Facility.

Last Updated: Apr 20, 2017