Desalination and Recycled Water Projects Update: Water Supply Reliability Remains a High Priority for Montecito Water District


(Montecito, California, January 30, 2019)

Montecito Water District’s (MWD) mission is at its essence to provide its community with a reliable supply of high quality water at a reasonable cost. Desalination and Recycled Water projects have jumped to the MWD’s front burner as a variety of factors--most notably an historic 8-year drought and widespread evidence of possible climate change, have put a spotlight on the need for locally controlled reliable water supplies that are not rainfall dependent. Desalination and Recycled Water projects top the list as possible feasible sources that would provide protection from drought and other supply threats, and in the past week each has received a notable push forward.


In a Special Board Meeting held Monday, January 28, 2019 the Board reviewed a proposed term sheet and authorized staff to proceed with negotiations on a Water Supply Agreement with the City of Santa Barbara (City). The City Council received a presentation on the term sheet yesterday, January 29th , and also voted unanimously to proceed, giving both agencies the greenlight to continue with development of a Water Supply Agreement. The term sheet can be found in the board packet posted on the District’s website.

Based on the terms presented, the Water Supply Agreement would guarantee the City’s delivery of 1,430 acre feet of potable water to Montecito annually for 50 years irrespective of hydrologic conditions. The Water Supply Agreement, targeted for review in late spring or early summer, will be subject to approval by the governing bodies of both agencies. Successful execution of the Water Supply Agreement with the City would increase MWD’s current local reliable sources, making nearly 40% of MWD’s supply not dependent on rainfall—that’s almost half of the 85% long-term target.

Montecito Water District’s Board of Directors considers proposed terms for a 50-year Water Supply Agreement with the City of Santa Barbara.

Recycled Water

In addition to making progress with Desalination, On January 22nd, MWD’s Board approved staff’s recommendation on a recycled water implementation plan, derived from the Recycled Water Feasibility Study that was finalized in November. The recommended recycled water project is non-potable reuse (NPR) for large irrigation users with the option of indirect potable reuse (IPR) pending a hydrogeologic investigation of the Montecito Groundwater Basin. With this Board action, staff can pursue proposals and costs for Phase I work which includes four technical studies and will report to the Board again within the next couple months.

Water Supply Overview

This Water Sources Diagram created in 2016 identifies two Potential New Sources: Desalination and Recycled Water. In recent drought years the District has experienced limited State Water Project allocations, depleted local surface water, and declining groundwater. Conservation remains high overall, and potential new sources have become a focal point.

MWD’s Urban Water Management Plan calls for 85% local, reliable supplies to be in place by 2025. While somewhat diversified, the District’s current water supply portfolio is primarily rainfall dependent, making the region vulnerable during times of extended drought. At this time, Lake Cachuma is at 36% capacity and Jameson Lake’s supply has been undeliverable since the Thomas Fire due to contamination. Groundwater is at a historic low and will take several consecutive years of at least average rainfall to recharge the Montecito Groundwater Basin.

The District’s three-year water supply planning outlook projects water supply availability through 2021 assuming drought conditions persist, customer conservation continues at above 30% (below 2013 usage) and supplemental water remains available. These water supply projections assume continued drought conditions with below-average annual State Water Project allocations and little to no usable recharge of local surface water reservoirs including Cachuma and Jameson Lakes. Until local water supply conditions improve, or the District successfully acquires new local and reliable supplies such as desalination and/or recycled water, the District will continue to be heavily reliant (+80%) on the State Water Project facilities for a limited delivery of State Water Project and/or supplemental water to help meet customer demands.

Securing sources close to home, that are not dependent on rainfall, and not conveyed long distances, i.e. reliant on extensive infrastructure and / or pipelines that are vulnerable to natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes) and other potential disruptions, is high priority.

This chart shows Montecito Water District’s distribution of water supplies by source for calendar year 2018. Through the current 8-year drought, MWD has relied heavily on the State Water Project, which constituted 82% of supply in 2018 according to Nick Turner, General Manager.

Montecito Water District's mission is to provide an adequate and reliable supply of high quality water to the residents of Montecito and Summerland, at the most reasonable cost. In carrying out this mission, the District places particular emphasis on providing outstanding customer service, conducting its operations in an environmentally sensitive manner, and working cooperatively with other agencies. For additional information visit, like Montecito Water District on Facebook, and follow on twitter @MontecitoWater.