Santa Barbara ponders US$ 2 million subsurface intake test

Californian city, Santa Barbara, may put up to US$ 2 million into a study of a desalination facility seawater intake structure after environmental groups said the existing plant’s open water intake pipe could be harmful to marine life.

The city council has authorized an initial US$ 344,000 contract with desalination company, Carollo Engineers, to determine whether a subsurface intake structure was feasible for the seawater reverse osmosis plant. The second phase is expected to cost about US$ 700,000 and the third phase, when Carollo is to study specific alternatives for a subsurface intake, is expected to cost US$ 1.1 million, according to the city.

Regulatory agencies have made the feasibility study mandatory as part of the city’s desalination-related permits. But California Coastal Commission members pointed out that a 1996 permit is still valid so the city can put the facility back into operation with the open water intake structure, even if the studies recommend a subsurface intake

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant, when active, pumped seawater from an open intake structure, located 600 m offshore, and the waste was mixed with the discharge from El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant, located 2.9 km offshore.

Carollo Engineers, which did preliminary design work for restarting the desalination plant, will also look at potable water reuse during the study process. The work plan will be presented to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board by the end of August.

When approving the contract, council member Bendy White said he hoped the city could learn whether there is some kind of “fatal flaw” in a subsurface intake system before big money is invested in pursuing it.