No, To Desal

By Dick Shaikewitz   |   January 2, 2020

The Board of the Montecito Water District appears ready to enter into a 50-year, $1/4 billion contract with the City to acquire 1,409 acre feet of desal water a year. They are waiting for the new rate consultants they just hired in December for $82,221 to finish a new rate study. The Board terminated its prior rate consultants.

I personally don’t think desal is necessary. It is incredibly expensive, and the District can buy all the water it needs at much cheaper prices. The Board’s intentions are admirable, but not appropriate. Most importantly, it is a huge waste of customers’ money.

The initial yearly cost for the 1,409 acre feet of water (AFW) is approximately $3,000 per AFW. That will cost the District an additional $4,000,000 a year. With about 4,600 customers, everyone’s water bills will greatly increase.

In early 2019, the Board hired for $40,000 another consultant to give it recommendations on how to dispose of all the excess water it will have once it acquires desal. During normal weather, the District rarely has to buy extra water; but during droughts, extra water purchases are needed.

The District is in droughts about 25% of the time. That means for 75% of the time, the District rarely needs to purchase any water, much less very expensive desal water. So, by buying desal during normal weather, the District will have far too much water, and will have to dispose of much of it.

So why, in 75% of the years, should all the District’s customers’ bills go up $4,000,000 to pay for unneeded desal? The State makes it difficult for the District to sell excess water. Maybe, in 2020, it might become easier. If so, the District may have about 950 AF of excess water to sell in 75% of the years. The District might receive somewhere between $225 to $1,070 per AFW. During the 12 times the District purchased extra water between 2014 to 2018, this is what it paid.

So, in every three of four years, the District will purchase 1,409 AF of unneeded desal for $4,000,000, while possibly, if the State permits, being able to sell 950 AF of excess water for somewhere between $213,750 and $1,016,500. This makes absolutely no economic sense.

During normal weather, the Board is usually left alone. But during droughts, occasionally good intentioned people believe they can solve the District’s water problem. That’s how I see the current Board. At its December meeting, two of its members said that a number of customers have talked to them about the proposed desal and rate increases. Only a very few customers were opposed, and the vast majority were in favor of what they were proposing.

Having desal is certainly more convenient than having to go on the open market to purchase extra water when needed, as the District has easily done during about 25 of the last 100 years. But I don’t believe it’s $16,000,000 more convenient.

If you do nothing, you can expect desal beginning in the next few years, and your water bills to drastically increase.

There are several things you can do to help inform the Board if you believe desal and a large rate increase are bad for the District. They are to communicate your views by either: (1) Writing a letter to the District at 583 San Ysidro Road, 93108. (2) Telephoning the District office at 805-969-2271 and asking to speak to General Manager Nick Turner. If he’s not in, leave a recorded message. (3) If you meet or know any of the directors, talk to them.


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