Pen finally met paper on Wednesday, making official the 50-year water supply agreement between the city of Santa Barbara and the Montecito Water District.
A virtual ceremony was held via Zoom on Wednesday morning, as representatives from both jurisdictions were joined by local elected officials to celebrate what was considered by many as regional planning done right.
The event marked the end of five years of negotiations between both parties, and comes three years after the city’s restart of the Charles E. Meyer desalination facility. Under the terms of the deal, the city will deliver 1,430 acre-feet of water annually to the Montecito Water District.
As mentioned by Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo and MWD General Manager Nick Turner, both public agencies have a long history of working with one another. Both previously partnered in the building of Jameson Reservoir, have been members of the Cachuma Project and have worked collaboratively via the city’s Cater Water Treatment Plant. Both local agencies also take part in the State Water Project.
The ceremony was held on “National Imagine a Day Without Water,” a concept that Montecitans should be well aware of given the recent historic drought.
“We came way too close to not only experiencing a day without water, but rather an entire community without water,” said Floyd Wicks, board president for the MWD. “As a reminder, during the drought, Lake Cachuma was at a meager 7% of capacity, and the State Water Project in 2014 only allocated 5% of our Table A entitlements, and Lake Jameson, owned by Montecito Water District, was empty.
“Our three major supplies were literally on the ropes.”
As of Wednesday, Lake Cachuma, the main reservoir for South Coast water agencies, was at 68.5% capacity, while Jameson was at 82.4%, according to the county Public Works Department. The 2019 SWP allocation was 75%.
“It has indeed been a long road; however, it was the right road to take,” he said.
While drought conditions have improved recently, 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said that it is not a signal to stop conserving.
“This (agreement) goes a long way to increasing our resiliency against drought, but it will return, and we will be better equipped to deal with it,” he said. “I hope this spirit of regional cooperation continues and spreads to all the other agencies in our regions.”
Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, explained that the agreement provides insurance, water security and certainty for the future water needs of Montecito. The congressman also touted the regional collaboration involved in the deal.
Rebecca Bjork, public works director for the city, was a key negotiator in the agreement. She said hundreds of hours went into the WSA between the two parties, which will serve residents for years to come.
Ms. Bjork said the city worked to make sure it was a fair deal for both parties, while also ensuring the city would be able to meet the terms of the 50-year contract.
Core principles of the terms include an agreement that Santa Barbara will operate the desalination facility and deliver the water and will share the cost with MWD without granting any ownership to the district.
The agreement is also a “take-or-pay agreement,” meaning the district pays whether they need the water or not. The pricing reflects the full cost of financing and operating the plant, and does not include any subsidies.
In July, the Santa Barbara City Council approved a conveyance pipeline project and authorized the public works director to procure and award contracts for construction of the pipeline and ancillary improvements and facilities needed to implement the agreement.
The proposed pipeline would be capable of conveying 10,000 acre-feet of water annually.
Following negotiations, the MWD agreed to pay nearly 65% of the capital costs associated with the pipeline.
The desal plant currently produces 3,125 acre-feet of water annually. To provide supplies to MWD over the span of the agreement, the production capacity at the facility is expected to increase. To do so, the city plans to administer incremental increases in treatment production capacity consistent with its water supply plan.
The total cost of pipeline construction and plant expansion is estimated at $19 million. Funding to build the conveyance pipeline project will be fronted by the city and repaid by the Montecito district in the future. Staff have also secured a $1 million grant from the Department of Water Resources to be used for the pipeline.
Water deliveries will begin Jan. 1, 2022, and the city will receive approximately $4.5 million in revenue annually for deliveries to Montecito.
At the conclusion of the video, city Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark was joined by Mr. Turner at the desalination facility. Mr. Turner remarked that the district’s customers can feel comfort knowing the district’s long-term water supply outlook is now more certain with the addition of the new source.
Mr. Wicks and Mayor Pro Tempore Kristen Sneddon then signed their respective contracts, and the deal became official.