The Charles Meyer Desalination Plant is in long-term storage mode and is not currently producing drinking water for the City. The City constructed the reverse osmosis seawater desalination facility as an emergency water supply in response to the severe drought from 1986 to 1991. Two neighboring water purveyors, Goleta and Montecito water districts, participated in the project but have since opted out of the permanent facility. Due to sufficient freshwater supplies since 1991, the facility remains in long-term storage mode for reactivation within two years in the case of prolonged and severe drought.
With the departure of the co-participants and sale of a portion of the capacity, the desalination facility now has a production capacity of 3,125 acre feet per year.
Relatively high variable costs for desalination make this supply the last to be utilized during periods of shortage. The facility is normally in long-term storage mode and is expected to be recommissioned only when the demand cannot be met using all other available supplies.
The original capital cost for construction in 1991 was $34 million. The capital cost to reactivate the plant at a capacity of 3,125 AF per year was estimated at $17.7 million, not including about $2.5 million dollars in distribution system improvements that would be required, if not already completed by the time of reactivation. Operating costs were estimated at approximately $1,500/AF.