Water Supply Plan Needed

By Robert Roebuck   |   January 23, 2020

During the recent severe drought, water restrictions coupled with financial penalties were adopted to encourage water conservation. For single family residence (SFR) the penalties affected consumption of water above 25 hundred cubic feet (hcf) per month.

Since the average Montecito SFR uses 5 hcf/month for interior use and 17 hcf/month for exterior use the financial penalty fell heavily on those residences that use large amounts of water for exterior use i.e. landscaping. This situation provided incentive to push for a water supply portfolio that would meet all water customer needs in the next drought.

Desalinated ocean water was promoted as an additional water supply which would complement existing Montecito Water District (MWD)supplies. Subsequent events resulted in identifying a Water Supply Agreement (WSA) with the City of Santa Barbara as a way to obtain additional water priced on the City’s desalination facility costs.

Unfortunately the WSA requires MWD to pay $4.2 million per year for water even when it is surplus to MWD needs. For example this year, and most years, MWD customer needs can be met solely by water stored in Cachuma Lake and Jameson Lake. MWD will defer accepting its State Water Project water allocation this year because it is surplus to customer needs. However MWD would still be required to pay $4.2 million to the City per the WSA terms for water it can’t use.

In the last two elections a new MWD Board was elected with a goal to meet all customer needs including landscaping for large customers in the next drought. The Board appears to believe that this goal can be accomplished only by signing the WSA which will result in a significant water bill increase for all customers. In effect all customers will be burdened by larger water bills every month so that those customers who need more than 25 hcf/month primarily for their landscaping won’t be financially penalized in the next drought.

The goal of meeting the water needs of all customers during the next drought is important. However it is possible that there are other water supply scenarios that can accomplish this goal with better terms and significantly less cost than the WSA. The cost aspect shouldn’t be ignored because it is significant and borne by all MWD customers.

Why has the present MWD Board resisted examining other water supply scenarios now that they know the onerous terms, conditions and cost of the WSA? Isn’t it reasonable for the Board to update the MWD 2007 Water Supply Management Plan (Plan) based on information gained in the recent severe drought?

An updated Plan would examine the reliability and cost of existing MWD water supplies, and additional supplies such as the WSA, drought water supply agreements with other water agencies, water purchase agreements, recycled water, and water supply enhancements such as the Semitropic Groundwater Banking and Exchange Program.

Updating the Plan will cost approximately $50,000 which is a pittance compared to the WSA cost of $200+ million over its 50-year term. The updated Plan could provide alternative water supply scenarios which could be compared to the WSA. A final decision would be made by the Board after evaluating the reliability and cost of all water supply scenarios.

Please write, email, or phone the Board or General Manager and inform them that you believe it is important for them to have additional information on alternative water supply scenarios contained in an updated Plan before they make a final decision on the WSA. Also you can attend a Board meeting and express your view.

If you take no action you can expect significant increases to your water bill in the future with no discernible benefit for most customers.

The contact information for the Board and Nick Turner, General Manager, is: 805-969-2271; customerservice@montecitowater.com; Montecito Water District, 583 San Ysidro Road, Montecito, CA 93108.


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