Montecito Falling Behind on Recycled Water

By Bob Hazard   |   August 30, 2018

Recycling of treated wastewater is environmentally responsible and can create a significant new water supply for both landscaping water (sometimes referred to as non-potable or “purple pipe” water) by surface spreading, or even better, indirect potable reuse (IPR) by injecting the purified water into local groundwater basins as recharge water for later withdrawal as a potential new source of drinking water.

Simply stated, there is no excuse for advanced communities such as Montecito to continue to dump 500,000 gallons of treated wastewater into the ocean every day, 500 yards off Butterfly Beach in 23 feet of water.

The number of gallons per day of treated wastewater now being discharged by the five coastal Sanitary Districts and the City of Santa Barbara, according to Heal the Ocean and water experts at Woodward & Curran is:

Source of Waste Water Waste Water Produced (GPD) Acre-Feet Per Year (AFY)

Montecito Sanitary District 500,000 gallons per day 560 AFY

Summerland Sanitary District 100,000 gallons per day 112 AFY

Carpinteria Sanitary District 1,200,000 gallons per day 1,344 AFY

Goleta Sanitary District 6,000,000 gallons per day 6,721 AFY

City of Santa Barbara 6,000,000 gallons per day 721 AFY

Potential New Water Supply: 13,800,000 gallons per day 15,458 AFY

Discharging this much treated water represents a wasted opportunity. If a lot of that 15,458 AFY of wastewater were treated and injected into the appropriate groundwater basins for future use, the recharge could restore the health of our depleted basins now threatened by overdrafting. Even better, water stored in the winter rainy season could be withdrawn in the dry summer months, especially during periods of sustained drought.

In a perfect world of inter-district collaboration, each water district could use or sell its treated wastewater. 15,458 AFY of new locally produced water would satisfy 100% of the City of Santa Barbara’s annual water needs of 10,000 AFY, plus 100% of Montecito and Summerland’s annual water needs of 4,000 AFY, and still have 1,458 AFY left over to recharge other basins to protect public and private well owners.

Orange County: the “Gold Standard”

The Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) is the largest advanced water purification system for potable reuse in the world. The GWRS system takes highly treated wastewater, that normally would have been discharged into the Pacific Ocean, and purifies it, using a three-step advanced treatment process of microfiltration, reverse osmosis (RO) and ultra-violet light with hydrogen peroxide. The GWRS produces up to 100 million gallons per day of high-quality drinking water that exceeds all state and federal standards, meeting the water needs of 850,000 residents of north and central Orange County.

In February 2018, the Orange County Water District and the Orange County Sanitation District collaborated with the Guinness Book of Records to set a new world-record for converting wastewater into drinkable water in one day. Working together, the two districts converted 100,008,000 gallons of reclaimed wastewater into drinkable water. That equates to 112,000 acre-feet per year (AFY), or enough water to supply Montecito with all of the potable water it needs for the next 28 years.

Originally opened in January 2008, the groundwater replenishment plant was partially funded by $93 million in grants from local, state, and federal sources. Without grants, the unit cost to produce GWRS water is $875 per acre foot. With grants, that cost drops to $530 per AF. That cost is competitive with imported water, but more reliable and more drought-proof. GWRS uses less than half the energy required to transport imported water from Northern California. Purified GWRS water is about 1/3 the cost of ocean desalination.

A 13-mile pipeline connects the groundwater replenishment plant to the groundwater recharge basins in Anaheim for natural percolation. Some 30% of the water for basin recharge comes from the GWRS plant; the rest comes from the Santa Ana River, rainfall and excess imported water. Nineteen water agencies in north and central Orange County draw groundwater from these basins. The wastewater recycling and groundwater recharge program account for 25% of Orange County’s water supply.

In August 2018, the Orange County Water District was awarded an additional $135 million federal loan to expand its pioneering groundwater replenishment system. The plan is to increase the potable water output up to 130 million gallons per day by 2023, enough potable water for 1 million people.

What are Montecito’s neighbors doing to recycle and reuse their treated wastewater? 


The Carpinteria Valley Water District (CVWD) and its partner agency, the Carpinteria Sanitary District (CSD), are working together on the development of an Advanced Water Purification Facility (AWPF) that will purify Carpinteria wastewater to better than drinking water standards, according to a report by Bob McDonald, general manager of the Carpinteria Valley Water District, published in the Coastal View News, 08/16/18.

The two districts have concluded that advanced water treatment at the Carpinteria Sanitary District treatment plant, followed by injecting the purified wastewater into the Carpinteria Water District groundwater basin instead of discharging it into the ocean off the beaches of Carpinteria, is the best option for Carpinteria residents.

Tentative groundwater injection locations have been identified as injection well locations near Linden Avenue, north of Highway 101. A pipeline will be constructed to carry the treated water from the sanitary treatment plant to the injection well sites.

“Recycled water produced through this project,” says McDonald, “is anticipated to supplement the natural recharge of groundwater to produce an additional 1,100 acre feet per year of new water. That’s enough water to serve more than 4,000 households for a year.

“The Water District has been monitoring Carpinteria groundwater levels over the last two decades and has seen the water levels decline during the current drought. Combined public and private pumping from groundwater wells extracts an average of 3,900 AF of water from the Carpinteria basin each year. We have not received sufficient rainfall to recharge the basin, so we are collectively taking out more than nature can replenish. This new sustainable water source will help stop that trend by augmenting natural groundwater supplies, and will provide a buffer against seawater intrusion, which is a threat to all coastal communities.” 

The City of Goleta

Reuse of recycled water in the Goleta Valley began in 1994 in response to drought conditions. While 3.2 million gallons per day of treated wastewater are still being discharged into the Pacific Ocean, 35 customers enjoy 1,100 AFY of recycled irrigation water, including the campus at UCSB, the Santa Barbara Airport, the Glen Annie Golf Course, and a large number of public schools and agricultural interests.

With a partial funding grant from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRC), Goleta’s Water and Sanitary Districts are finalizing an Advanced Facilities Plan to develop a 1,500,000-gallons-per-day advanced water treatment plant to purify wastewater for Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) by recharging the Goleta Water Basins. The plan includes the addition of four new groundwater injection wells and four new monitoring wells. Stored recycled water can be retained in the basin for as little as two months, but it is recommended it be left there for up to six months, before being mixed with other potable water sources as a new 1,500 AFY addition to the water supply. The joint Advanced Facility Plan enables both Goleta Sanitary and Goleta Water to become eligible for construction grants and low interest loans.

City of Santa Barbara

Since 1989, the City of Santa Barbara has been delivering tertiary treated wastewater to 48+ sites, including the Montecito Country Club. These 48 sites use roughly 800 acre-feet per year of recycled water for landscaping.

The City has recently completed a potable reuse feasibility study for expanded use of recycled water. Advanced treatment of recycled water would allow for either indirect potable use through injection into its groundwater basin, or direct potable reuse when that use is permitted by California law.

The City is seeking a Facilities Grant Program from the State Water Board to get in-line for funding to construct advanced water recycling facilities.

Montecito Sanitary

Montecito Sanitary has just announced its intention to use 2/10ths of 1% of the 500,000 gallons per day of secondary treated wastewater that it now discharges into the Ocean off Butterfly Beach to water its own site’s landscaping. Historically, Montecito Water and Montecito Sanitary have not worked together to design and construct an advanced wastewater system that includes a major recycling and reuse project.

The two districts are finally working together to erase their decade-long feud, arguing over who is at fault for a failure to work together on a joint plan for recycling. Both districts need an infusion of new mutual respect and mutual trust to work together to accomplish what Hillary Hauser has been advocating for at least the last 10 years: an end to the discharge of 500,000 gallons per day of (admittedly treated) wastewater into the ocean and the transformation of our “Wastewater Discharge” plant into a “Recycled Water Plant.”

Collaboration between the districts requires joint planning to develop both an advanced production system and an advanced delivery system. The risk is that if the two districts do not work together as a team, both will remain on track to be last-in-line to receive state grants and low-cost loans available now for recycling.

The recent spirit of cooperation needs to be accelerated. Last week, a new Water Security Team of next-generation Montecito leaders with a track record of professional accomplishment in technology, finance, and management, announced they were running for election to the two boards, challenging three sitting incumbents who have a combined 27 years of service. The newcomers promise to work together to reduce local reliance on imported water from the High Sierras; recycle and reuse local wastewater; complete the negotiations with the City for desalinated water; conserve water; and efficiently manage our precious groundwater basins.


You might also be interested in...