On July 21, 2015 the Santa Barbara City Council issued a contract to reactivate and operate the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant. An efficient design coupled with exceptional state loan financing has resulted in annual project costs that are about $2 million less than originally anticipated. These lower project costs help to offset other drought-related expenses that have given cause to increase water rates, effective July 1, 2015.
City Council awarded IDE Americas, Inc. a design/build/operate contract to re-commission the desalination plant. The City's plant will use state-of-the-art technology and design practices to reduce the plant’s impact on the environment. The design includes a screened ocean intake structure equipped with openings no larger than 1.6 mm (approximately 1/16”), diluted and diffused brine discharge, and high-efficiency pumps and motors to reduce the plant’s overall electrical power demands. The plant is scheduled to be in service by September 2016, and will annually produce 3,125 acre-feet of potable water for the City’s water customers, meeting approximately 30% of the community’s water demands.
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. 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.