Election 2018: Sanitary District Voters Have a Choice

By Bob Hazard   |   October 4, 2018

On November 6, Montecito voters will go to the polls. This year’s ballot contains an extreme rarity: a contested election for the Montecito Sanitary District (MSD) Board of Directors. For the first time in anyone’s memory, voters will choose among four different candidates running for two MSD seats.

Why is this unusual? Because since 2000, there is no record of any election for any Montecito Sanitary District Board candidate. Sanitary Board members are routinely appointed by existing board members, never elected. They never face opposition. The appointment system tends to reward conformity over innovation and new thinking.

Many voters confess they are not even aware there is a Sanitary District in Montecito. Fewer still know there is a separate sanitary treatment plant in Summerland. It is difficult to recruit qualified candidates for the Sanitary Board because most residents do not see “Sanitary Service” as a meaningful community issue. This year is different. 

Sanitary Districts in Santa Barbara County

There are 12 wastewater treatment plants in Santa Barbara County. The two largest are the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant, run by the City of Santa Barbara with a capacity of 12,321 acre-feet per year (AFY) and the City of Santa Maria Wastewater Treatment Plant with a capacity of 8,737 AFY. Both cities produce more wastewater than they need. Neither city has a separate Sanitary District nor an elected or appointed Board. They are utilities run by City Public Works. The other wastewater treatment plants are in Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, Goleta West, Lompoc, Orcutt (Laguna County Sanitation District), Mission Hills (La Purisima Wastewater Treatment plant), and of course, Montecito and Summerland.

The Montecito Sanitary District has a treatment capacity of 1,680 AFY, or 14% of the size of Santa Barbara’s treatment plant. The even smaller Summerland Sanitary District has a treatment capacity of 336 AFY. The wisdom and rationale of having two tiny Sanitary districts, each with a separate wastewater treatment plant, and different standards of treatment, is a topic worth exploring by both the Montecito and Summerland Sanitary boards. 

Why is all this important? Combined, the Montecito Sanitary District and the Summerland Sanitary District have the potential to provide some 500 AFY of newly recycled water to the Montecito Water District. Both Carpinteria and Santa Barbara could offer additional supplies. One thousand AFY of recycled water could provide a reliable, drought-free 25 percent of Montecito and Summerland’s water needs.

Use of Recycled Water in Santa Barbara County 

How can we conserve more water? One opportunity is lowering customer consumption. A second opportunity is the wise reuse of our existing water resources with minimum waste. Recycling is not only environmentally responsible, but an important potential supply of new water through indirect potable reuse and basin recharge today, and direct potable reuse, when permitted by law. 

At minimum, Orange County, Silicon Valley, and a growing number of advanced wastewater treatment facilities in California and around the world have shown us that using treated wastewater to recharge their drought-depleted basins is environmentally responsible and cost competitive. Why discharge wastewater into the ocean when it can be used to replenish depleted aquifers?

Of the 12 wastewater treatment plants in Santa Barbara County, only two – the Montecito Sanitary District and the Summerland Sanitary District – are identified by WaterWiseSB.org (the water website for Santa Barbara County) as having no recycled water use program whatsoever. Montecito Sanitary has announced a plan to start using a fraction of its treated wastewater to water the plants surrounding its headquarters building, a small conservation step that Summerland Sanitary has been doing for years. 

Buellton is using treated wastewater to recharge its depleted basins. Carpinteria is doing landscaping irrigation and going to groundwater recharge. Goleta and Goleta West are both doing landscaping reuse. So are Santa Barbara and the City of Santa Maria. The Laguna County Sanitation District in Orcutt and southern Santa Maria reports that it treats and recycles 2.4 million gallons a day of wastewater, or 100% of its output for irrigation use. The La Purisima Wastewater Treatment plant, serving Mission Hills, is doing groundwater recharge. Lompoc is doing tree irrigation. Solvang is doing groundwater recharge. 

Montecito and Summerland Sanitary Districts

The Montecito Sanitary District currently discharges some 500,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day into the ocean off Butterfly Beach. Summerland Sanitary discharges an additional 100,000 gallons per day off Summerland Beach. Montecito Sanitary is listed by WaterWiseSB.org as treating its wastewater to a “secondary standard,” not to the tertiary standard suitable for landscaping reuse. Summerland Sanitary, which now discharges 100,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day off Summerland Beach, treats its wastewater to a tertiary standard, according to WaterWiseSB.org.

Cooperation or Dissention

For more than a decade, Montecito Sanitary and the Montecito Water District have been unsuccessful in working together to craft a plan for the processing and distribution of recycled water. Each agency blames the other for a lack of collaboration. In August, Sanitary finally passed a motion to support cooperation in recycling, but the two agencies still insist on working in separate silos rather than funding and producing a single joint study that includes both agencies names with their joint stamp of approval.

Dick Shaikewitz has been the strongest opponent of recycling on the current Montecito Water Board. Judith Ishkanian has been the most vocal board member at Montecito Sanitary District arguing against working with the Water District. It is the supreme irony that the two most contentious board members are now running in tandem for re-election, touting their combined 24-year record of board service to fix the problem they have helped to create.

Voters need to ask, “After 12 years of playing the blame game, is it time to elect new directors who will look to the future, not the past, and work toward cooperation, replacing both Shaikewitz and Ishkanian?” Ratepayers have paid a price for the divisiveness between the agencies. The discord between the two incumbents has not only hobbled efforts to recycle wastewater but, even worse, disunity has eliminated state grant funding for jointly supported pilot recycling programs. In addition, low-interest state funding for advanced wastewater treatment plants represents a benefit enjoyed by scores of other agencies working together. This is an opportunity that has been missed by Montecito Sanitary, Summerland Sanitary, and Montecito Water that can no longer be tolerated.

What to Look for

The Montecito Sanitary District website defines the job of its board as, “To approve the annual operating and capital budgets and authorize expenditures of the district’s funds.” There is no mention of strategic planning, or vision, or policy setting as board responsibilities. Joint planning, joint funding, and joint cooperation need to be added to the list to ensure that our community secures a new reliable local water supply that is independent of future rainfall. Serious facility planning for the intelligent reuse of an existing water supply should have started a decade ago. Your vote can start the process November 6.

Candidates with fresh ideas, who possess the technical and personal skills to protect the $10 billion in value of residential real estate in Montecito and Summerland. It should be apparent to even the least involved voter, or to friends and supporters of the incumbents, that the time is now to make the necessary changes. Elect those with a commitment to do whatever it takes to stop dumping our treated wastewater off Butterfly Beach and to start using it productively to mitigate the threat of continued drought. 

Candidates who are proven problem solvers, able to analyze challenges, research the facts, develop possible solutions, test options, make decisions, and monitor results. Woody Barrett, a professional geologist and engineer, brings a needed new skillset to the Sanitary Board as a practical problem solver, skilled in flow analysis, treatment technologies, and conveyance systems. This is a professional skillset that has been missing from the Sanitary Board for at least the last 12 years.

Candidates who have enjoyed success in other professional and community endeavors. All four candidates share this quality, but none more so than Dana Newquist, Mr. Montecito, the ultimate team player, with a track record of community success in every public sector endeavor he has ever taken on. Newquist’s strength is in bringing people together, not tearing them apart.

Candidates committed to collaboration with members of their own board as well as the leaders of other local agencies. The current incumbent, seeking a new four-year term, has supported confrontation over collaboration. The new candidates, Woody Barrett and Dana Newquist, offer a better pathway to the future.

Voters need to choose wisely. The biggest threat to water security in Montecito is voter indifference. The great news is that real water security for Montecito and Summerland is possible, if we elect those who will forget the past and demand that our three local districts – Montecito Water, Montecito Sanitary, and Summerland Sanitary – work together collaboratively now. 


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