No Mas Agua!
Apologies for the misleading headline, but it’s worth celebrating that the Montecito Journal’s six-part series on our town’s complex water politics is finally complete!
On June 25, Montecito’s Water Board made history by voting unanimously to approve a deal with Santa Barbara that will guarantee us a local and reliable source of water for the next half century. In approving its Water Supply Agreement (WSA) with the city, the Montecito Water District (MWD) has agreed to help pay for the cost of the city’s pricey 1980s-era desalination plant, which originally operated for just four months before being hastily decommissioned for decades and only brought back online in 2015 during California’s most recent many years-long drought.
MWD’s vote took place after a three-hour online public hearing during which a cast of characters who are familiar to anyone who’s read the Journal‘s coverage – including former board members as well as local water conservation advocates and environmentalists – made arguments both for and against the deal that featured prominently in the Journal‘s previous coverage of this story. But according to Nick Turner, MWD’s general manager, only 15 formal protests were lodged against the agency’s plan. Given that MWD services well more than 4,000 household accounts, that didn’t come anywhere close to the 50 percent-plus-one-ratepayer benchmark needed to veto the Water Board’s vote.
Along with approving the desal deal, MWD’s board of directors also approved a rate hike that will help pay for the water, but which the agency insists will only impact Montecito’s biggest water consumers while actually lowering the monthly bills for about half of the town’s residents. Despite the historic vote, however, arguments about the desal deal are likely to continue in the coming months and years. And given that water is the key to just about every major environmental story that affects Montecito and the rest of southern Santa Barbara County – from fire to rain to drought to cannabis (acres and acres and even more acres of cannabis) – it’s fair to say we aren’t done writing about water just yet. In fact, both Bob Hazard, MJ‘s associate editor, and Carolee Krieger, California Water Impact Network’s president and executive director, already have something to say about it in this week’s issue, and we expect more editorials to come. Stay tuned!