Santa Barabara votes to reopen desalination plant

Santa Barbara city council has approved a loan to reopen its mothballed desalination plant.

Recommissioning the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Facility is expected to cost the city some US$ 55 million.

In September, city officials voted to reopen the reverse osmosis desalination plant when its main reservoir, Lake Cachuma, had receded to 30% capacity. The facility could provide Santa Barbara with 30-40% of its total water needs.

Local press reported that IDE Americas had been awarded the contract to run the facility. In addition to the US$ 46.6 million in construction and design costs, IDE has been reported to estimate that upkeep of the facility would cost between US$ 1.5 million-US$ 4 million a year. Water bills for Santa Barbara residents are expected to rise by US$5-10 per customer.

The desalination plant was built in the late 1980s and early 1990s during another drought, but went unused and was ultimately decommissioned in 1992 after the drought ended.

Santa Barbara residents reportedly packed City Hall before the vote to register complaints and concerns over the facility. Some expressed outrage over the cost of the project, while others were concerned with the environmental impact the plant could have on ocean life. But city officials defended the plant and its cost, saying its reopening would serve as an insurance policy against future droughts. "Desalination has been a last resort. The way the drought has continued these last four years, we are really getting at that last resort," said mayor, Helene Schneider.

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