Time for a Montecito Renewal

By Bob Hazard   |   February 14, 2019

A succession of winter storms has dropped four to six inches of intense rainfall on Montecito, and so far, cleaned-out debris basins, combined with wider creek channels, have saved the day. Now is an ideal time to pause and reflect on how you as an individual can help to make the Montecito community a safer and stronger place to live. Three issues come to mind:

Steel Nets

Montecito donations for six Geobrugg steel-mesh ring nets to be strategically installed in three high-risk canyons – Cold Spring, San Ysidro and Buena Vista – have now passed the $4.0 million mark. If you have not done so already, please get out your checkbook. Another $1.4 million is urgently needed. Prove that this community has the backbone to help save itself. The first responsibility of government at every level is the safety and security of its residents. When government cannot or will not find the resolve or resources, it is up to us to raise the money to protect ourselves.

Installation of the customized ring nets has been delayed by a permit provision that prohibits any work on the nets during a rain event. This has set back anchor bolt installers and helicopter drops of the nets from late February to mid-March. 

The plan to install the nets was conceived by members of the The Partnership for Resilient Communities on the back of a napkin a year ago by a tiny group of individuals visiting injured friends at Cottage Hospital. Ordinary people with an extraordinary sense of purpose chose community safety as their cause.

By early March, six steel mesh nets, anchored by pilings drilled into the canyon walls, will act as debris strainers, absorbing the shock of rolling boulders and trees while letting water and mud pass downstream. This privately financed plan will make our community stronger and safer by more than doubling the capacity of our woefully inadequate debris basins. Invest in our community now. Write a check today, no matter what size.

Reliable Potable Water

Last week, while traveling the backroads of Route 192 through rainstorms of varying intensities, weaving through canyons, sloshing through giant car puddles, with music humming to the beat of our windshield wipers, I have never seen the vegetation of Montecito look so lovely. Weeks of luscious rain have turned our landscape into 50 shades of forgotten green. Our plant life is alive. Our landscaping looks spectacular. A giant rainbow formed against the mountain backdrop through a light mist, creating a vision of incredible community beauty and renewed hope.

Recent rains are a sign of renewal and rebirth. Nature’s greenery adds beauty and charm to the soul. All it takes is ingenuity combined with willpower to create a permanently secure, reliable water future.

After years of imposing mandatory water rationing with its punishing penalties, and dependence on unreliable imported water, the Montecito Water District (MWD) is reinventing itself. It is rapidly transitioning from a water company that imports 85% of its water from the other side of our mountains into a District that generates 85% of its water locally. A year’s worth of emergency water for Montecito is being saved and stored underground in the Semitropic Water Storage District, an underground water bank with a capacity of 1.65 million acre-feet (AF) of water. That water serves as an emergency storage bank for Montecito, providing protection from overdraft of our groundwater basins.

At its January Board meeting, MWD approved a negotiated term sheet for a water supply agreement with the City of Santa Barbara for a 50-year supply of up to 1,875 AFY (or 42% of Montecito’s 4,500 AF used per year). The City needs financial help to pay for its costly desalination plant; Montecito needs a reliable local source of water, independent of rainfall – it’s a win-win for both.

More can be done to reduce the cost of water. With 1/3 of all the world’s water sitting in a gigantic, no-cost Pacific reservoir right on our front doorstep, it is bureaucratic insanity for the residents of Montecito, or Goleta, or Santa Barbara, or Carpinteria to continue to steal precious water from inland farmers and ranchers for urban coastal use.

Water is not a consumable commodity like oil or natural gas that when used is gone forever. Rather, the water we use today is the exact same water that our ancestors used. Water that falls as rain soaks into the earth as stored groundwater, or it is ingested into our bodies (water is 85% of our brain and 70% of our bodies), or it runs off as stormwater into rivers and creeks, or it is discharged into the ocean as treated wastewater, where it is recycled again for its repeated use and return to the sea. Think of desalination as simple environmental recycling.

The greatest obstacle to desalinated water is California’s costs. How can we recycle ocean water at the least possible cost into potable water for human and plant use before returning it to the ocean? It is absurd that desalinated water costs twice as much in California as it does in Israel. Why? Humongous permitting, energy, and labor costs… in a process that should be 95% automated.

Your support is needed to convince elected officials to lower the cost of desalinated water with less expensive energy, lower permitting costs and state and federal funding. Rather than spending billions on more dams and surface reservoirs, subsidize and lower the cost of desalination. Expanding the existing City of Santa Barbara desalination plant by increasing the number of RO trains from the current three train configuration (3,125 acre-feet of desalinated water) to 4, 5, or 6 trains (7,500 acre-feet) drops the cost of desalinated water significantly for all ratepayers in both the City of Santa Barbara and possibly Montecito.

There must be leaders who can envision ways to cut desalination costs dramatically. Instead of charging oil companies a billion dollars per drilling platform for removal, there is probably a smarter way to recycle those abandoned oil and gas platforms in the channel with their existing conveyance pipelines to the shoreline into efficient offshore freshwater factories, powered by existing natural gas or wind energy turbines, making low-cost fresh water to sell to the world. Unlike oil spills, clean water spills are welcomed.

Go Underground

Currently missing from our community renewal and recovery plan is a serious proposal to address the escalating visual pollution from Southern California Edison (SCE), Cox Cable, cell phone antennas, and other wireless companies that have created visual blobs of overhanging telephone lines, vulnerable power lines, unacceptable power outages and fire safety hazards.

Stringing utilities from pole-to-pole is so 19th-century. It is also incredibly ugly. SCE’s infrastructure is nearing the end of its lifespan. Wooden poles with crossbars, designed to last for 40 to 60 years, are now celebrating their 100th birthday.

Now, even uglier steel poles are replacing our traditional 19th century woodpecker-prone power poles.

Fire-related lawsuits have forced SCE to set aside $582 million for “wildfire mitigation and grid improvements” from exploding transformers and downed power lines that scorched 281,000 acres in the Thomas Fire. How much of that $582 million is destined for Montecito?

Where are our leaders who see catastrophes as opportunities for community improvements? Rather than banning straws, ban power poles in Montecito by 2025. What’s needed is a community coalition of engineering and financing experts to put together a reasonable package to underground utilities without putting the entire cost on the backs of the residents.

Problem Solving 

The Partnership for Resilient Communities has illustrated the value of strategic planning. When scientists can measure and describe natural disasters or other problem areas in mathematical terms, engineers and innovators can model options and suggest innovative new solutions. Emboldened administrators can then incorporate selected solutions into community plans, replete with funding requests. It is up to us to rid ourselves of our natural proclivity to either meekly accept the status quo, or go with a new philosophy: “If it ain’t broken, break it – and fix it now!”


You might also be interested in...