Will Desal Have its Day?

By Gwyn Lurie   |   June 25, 2020

Water has historically been Montecito’s (and one of California’s) most critical and controversial issues. We hope you’ve found helpful Nick Schou’s deep dive into the complicated nature of Montecito’s proposed “Water Sharing Agreement” or WSA, with Santa Barbara; and Montecito’s historical relationship to Santa Barbara’s desalination project and how the MWD has finally been able to reach a deal with the city.

If passed by MWD and Santa Barbara’s city council, this 50-year binding agreement for desal water will represent an historic moment in the annals of California environmental policy. According to the final draft of the WSA, Santa Barbara will provide Montecito with 1,430 acre-feet per year for the next 50 years at a price of about $4 million per year, which represents a total cost to MWD’s rate payers of about $200 million over the course of the agreement.

Eventually, desal water from Santa Barbara will get cheaper, according to the terms of the contract. Currently, MWD’s agreement with Santa Barbara provides that Montecito will help the city pay off the desal plant’s initial price tag as well as its ongoing costs. However, Santa Barbara’s low-interest state loan only needs to be serviced for another 17 years, so once the debt is paid, Montecito will pay a much lower price for desalinated water for the roughly 30 years left on the contract.

As reported by MJ writer Nick Schou in his series on water in Montecito, according to the Montecito Water District’s latest available figures, should its deal with Santa Barbara go forward, MWD’s customers will be divided into three new categories, or tiers, depending on the volume of water they use.

As Schou reported, Tier 1 consumers, who use up to 6,750 gallons per month, represent nearly half of MWD’s customer base. They will see a reduction in their monthly bill, Water Board Chair Floyd Wicks said, adding that the total bill will amount to $105.90 including service fees, which works out to just $3.50 per day, or 1.5 cents per gallon.

Heavier users of water will be charged more, depending on how much they consume each month, a cost-spreading system that has been held over from the previous Water Board’s emergency conservation measures. Even Tom Mosby, the MWD general manager who left the water district as a result of the agency’s drastic response to the last drought, supports the board’s new proposed rates.

“I have to give credit to this board,” Mosby said. “Their new rates represent a big change in how we bill for water. Most users are going to pay less or the same as they used to, but larger consumers will be charged more, as they should be. It’s a reasonable solution.”

On June 25, Montecito’s water customers and the general public will have a final opportunity to voice their opinions about the proposed water supply deal with Santa Barbara. That’s when the agency will host an online public hearing about the water rate changes and the desalination proposal. As a member of the public, this will be your last opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. So speak now or forever hold your peace.


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