Recycling Montecito Water

By Hillary Hauser   |   October 4, 2018

Heal the Ocean released its long-awaited study detailing the volume of potentially available water for a significant expansion of water recycling in California on September 26 – and coincidentally at the same time, the Montecito Water and Sanitary districts appear to be pulling together to develop recycled water for Montecito.

As the final details of HTO’s “Inventory of Municipal Wastewater Discharges to California Coastal Water Bodies were being finalized for release, HTO staff members attended Montecito Water District’s Strategic Planning Committee on September 20 for Woodard & Curran’s presentation of the results of a draft Recycled Water Feasibility Study commissioned by the Montecito Water District.

HTO has advocated for cooperation between the two districts for years, and we were thrilled to hear of a discussion by representatives from both Water and Sanitary districts for working together on the development of a recycled water facility in Montecito.

When Proposition 1 funding released $750 million for construction of recycled water facilities in 2014, our organization approached every wastewater and water district on the south coast, as well as Santa Ynez Valley, to jump aboard. When Montecito Water District repeatedly refused to entertain recycled water use, our frustration level was high. 

On December 14, 2014, it looked like the Water District was going to come to the table with the Sanitary District. A formal request had been made to the Sanitary District by MWD and put on the Sanitary District’s agenda. But the Water District failed to show up. It felt like a slap in the face.

However, as of last week, the presentation by Rob Morrow of Woodard & Curran to the Water District of a recycled water plan, and the positive reactions of the district’s Strategic Planning Committee to that plan, the frustrating days for HTO appear to be coming to a close.

I could barely stay in my seat when the conversation turned to production of 400,000 gallons per day to irrigate golf courses, the cemetery, parks, and other open/grass areas. This is like a reverse way to produce 500,000 gallons per day of potable water, because if that potable water is not being used for irrigation that significant amount of water stays intact for its intended use.

MWD general manager Nick Turner says, “We are all working together in support of this. The Sanitary District recently passed a resolution regarding their commitment to recycled water, I have attended their last two board meetings, and you can see their presence here today. It’s happening.”

The district’s Urban Water Management Plan identifies recycled water as a long-term local reliable supply and commits the District to add 1,000 acre feet of this water source to its annual water portfolio by 2025.

HTO’s “Inventory” which has now been released statewide, has an interactive program accessible on HTO’s website, contributing information to assist with statewide water supply planning efforts, specifically the volume of wastewater potentially available for use in water recycling projects.

Heal the Ocean’s research shows that 417 billion gallons of treated wastewater were discharged at 55 coastal locations in the 2015 calendar year.

The State Water Resources Control Board has been regularly communicating with Heal the Ocean its expectations for the report, which it says will help guide the development of the state’s Recycled Water Policy. Such complete information exists nowhere else in California.

The Inventory includes a thorough collection, review, and analysis of public data to determine the total volume of treated municipal wastewater discharges into California coastal water bodies. Unlike some inland discharges, discharge of wastewater to coastal water bodies have no beneficial use for the State and is therefore a wasted resource.

With a focus on data transparency and replicability, Heal the Ocean is releasing its entire database in tandem with publication of the study. The interactive report and associated datasets are availableat:

The Montecito Water District Strategic Planning Committee has asked for several items in the Woodard & Curran study to be clarified or further addressed, and the draft report is expected to go before the MWD board on November 20.


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