Santa Barbara starting back down desal path

Living near the ocean, in terms of water supply, is a blessing, but maybe an expensive one? The Santa Barbara, Calif., city council yesterday (Tues. 6/16/2015) voted to spend the $$$ to restart its old desalination project:

The City Council agreed to spend $3.7 million in the design phase of the project. However, this is just a fraction of the amount of money that will be needed to power up the entire desalination plant.

Restarting the desalination plant will cost approximately $55 million, and more than $4 million a year to operate it.

Santa Barbara Water Resources Manage Joshua Haggmark says that’s a sizable amount of money, however, based on the information he has, restarting the desalination plant is the only choice the City has.

Ocean water desalination in affluent coastal communities is a bit of a yo-yo: build plant in drought, don’t need it on the wet side of the cycle. Lather, rinse, repeat, as the Pacific Institute’s Amanda Pebler explained last summer:

The idea of building seawater desalination plants during a drought is not a new one. In 1991, a desalination plant in Santa Barbara was constructed in response to the 1987-1992 drought. Once the plant was completed, abundant rainfall rendered the plant cost-inefficient, and it shut down in 1992. Currently, costs to restart the plant are being assessed as the technology and infrastructure are dated and would incur new capital investment. Likewise, six seawater desalination plants were built in Australia in response to the Millennium Drought. Today, four out of the six plants are left idle due to the availability of cheaper alternatives. These examples should serve as cautionary tales.

More good Pacific Institute background here. (pdf)


  1. I have to wonder about the expense – both environmental and dollars about Desal and why more thought isn’t put into conservation which can be much more cost effective. My wife recently found a clever little device for getting bath and shower water outside for reuse on landscape – its – – – inexpensive, no permit required (its the same as bucketing water outside – just easier). We have established roses and trees and reusing the bathwater is practical. Why are government agencies and the water company doing things like this?

  2. if there is extra peak load energy from solar and wind available this is as good a use of the energy as anything. the less energy they have to use pumping water over the gap and from north to south the better too as then that extra water could sit where it won’t evaporate as quickly.

Comments are closed.