MWD at Montecito Association
At this month’s Montecito Association Board meeting, Montecito Water District (MWD) General Manager Nick Turner presented an overview of drought conditions and a summary of the District’s 5-year Strategic Plan, which was adopted earlier this year.
The District has been in existence for the last 100 years, and its mission statement is to provide an adequate and reliable supply of high quality water to the residents of Montecito and Summerland, at the most reasonable cost. The agency is currently governed by a board of five, including President Tobe Plough, Vice President Ken Coates, and directors Brian Goebel, Cori Hayman, and Floyd Wicks.
Turner explained that there have been significant periods of drought over the last century, which have led to the addition of water supply sources, including in 1929-35 when Jameson Lake was added as a water source, 1949-51 which led to the acquisition of the Cachuma Project as a new water source, 1987-92 when the State Water Project was added, and 2010-now, which has led to a number of various efforts. Those efforts include the 2015 Urban Water Management Plan, the acquisition of groundwater storage rights in 2017, a feasibility study for water reuse in 2018, and perhaps most significantly, the execution of a 50-year Water Supply Agreement with the City of Santa Barbara for desalinated water in 2020. “Extensive planning and projects since 2016 have served to make the District’s water supply more secure,” Turner said. “We are significantly better positioned than in past drought periods.”
Because of thoughtful planning and foresight, the District’s water sources have become increasingly diverse and include: Jameson Lake, Doulton Tunnel, Cachuma, State Water Project, supplemental purchases, groundwater, and desalinated water. Now, with water sources diversified, the District is contending with increased demand, despite asking customers for voluntary reduction last summer. From July 2021 to January 2022, customers complied and achieved a significant reduction in water usage. But February and March of this year saw a stark increase in water demand, and Turner says consistent conservation is what is needed.
He also warns that State-mandated reductions are on the way. “The State is taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to this, and we do not know yet how it will affect the District,” he said. It’s possible that the State would require local water purveyors like MWD to go into a Stage 2 water shortage contingency stage, which would cause MWD to implement up to a 20% water use reduction. This could mean prohibiting pools, spas, and ponds from being refilled, requiring pools and spas to have covers, and allowing exterior watering to be limited to every other day. Turner said he expects to know more in the next month but that he does not expect to return to water allocations and penalties. “At this point it’s voluntary reductions. We want customers to make changes to their properties that will achieve reduction without having to make reductions mandatory.”
The District continues to study the feasibility of recycled water, with a study expected to be complete by late summer. The study is in conjunction with Montecito Sanitary District (MSD), building on the 2018 Recycled Water Feasibility Study, and focuses on direct potable reuse and indirect potable reuse options with particular emphasis on regional partnerships with neighboring agencies. Both MWD and MSD are also studying whether consolidation between the two districts is deemed feasible, appropriate, and desirable for the community. A merging of the two special districts could improve the short- and long-term effective management of water resources, and avoid future misalignments of the two agencies on recycled water and other joint interests, according to the Strategic Plan. We’ll have much more on the potential of this consolidation in future editions.
According to the Strategic Plan, the challenges the District face are projected water supply shortages, aging infrastructure and facilities, an aging workforce, the need for employee development, water policy impacts, managing water supplies efficiently, and implementing water reuse. Future goals including bolstering water supply reliability through additional diversification, enhancing infrastructure dependability through replacement and rehabilitation, improving operations through planning and investment for qualified personnel, and advocating for the community for water policy inclusion.
The Montecito Water District’s Strategic Plan is available on MWD’s website at montecitowater.com.
Also at the MA meeting, Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor reported that persistent winds over the last few weeks are indicative of fire season. With sundowner winds expected through the end of the week, a group from UCSB will be in Montecito Thursday to collect data and study the wind patterns. Chief Taylor said the Montecito Fire Department will host a community meeting regarding wildfire preparedness on July 7, at 6 pm in Page Hall on the Westmont College campus. The community is encouraged to attend this meeting to review the Ready! Set! Go! guide and discuss how to implement a wildfire action plan. Wildland Specialists will discuss the preparedness actions residents can take to harden their home such as creating defensible space, using fire-resilient landscaping, and choosing ember-resistant building materials. The findings from MFPD’s evacuation study, which is currently in progress, will also be discussed. If the study’s findings indicate a need for substantial changes to the District’s evacuation plan, that information will be shared at the Wildfire Preparedness Community Meeting, as well as through multifaceted outreach methods to all community members.
Montecito Union School superintendent Anthony Ranii said the infrastructure renovation project for the main school building as well as the kindergarten/first grade building will start this summer, and will require temporary classrooms to be built on the lower terraces. The project is being financed with school reserves. Work also continues at the Nature Lab on campus, with 30 vertical gardens for hydroponic growing coming in soon. The Nature Lab has received $100K in community grants from over a dozen different agencies, and the school has raised $200K in direct donation. Ranii reported that in-person performances are back, and the upcoming graduation is also being planned in person. Cold Spring School Superintendent Dr. Amy Alzina reported that CSS will also hold their graduation in person. Later this month will mark the groundbreaking for CSS’s new building project, which is expected to be completed by March of next year.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi reported on recent crimes in Montecito, which include residential burglaries on Riven Rock, Oak Grove, Bella Vista, and Cold Spring Road. In more than one of those incidents, access was gained through a back door by breaking a window pane within the door, he said. Lieutenant Arnoldi also reported a recent incident in which a subject parked their car on the Santa Barbara Cemetery property, and then jumped off the property’s cliff onto the beach below, in an apparent suicide. Arnoldi said that crimes are down overall in Montecito, with 116 serious crimes reported so far this year, which is equivalent to last year’s numbers. Less severe crimes are down, with 80 reported this year, which is about half of the amount last year.
Darcel Elliott from First District Supervisor Das Williams’ office reported that the County has been trying for the last three months to hire a park ranger to enforce dusk-to-dawn rules on our local trailheads, including at Hot Springs Trail. “We’ve been having a really hard time hiring across the board,” she said, adding that any interested applicants should contact her. She also reported that an executive order has been issued by Governor Gavin Newsom, putting a moratorium on new wells being drilled.
Executive Director Sharon Byrne reported that Judge Donna Geck with the Santa Barbara Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction last Friday in the legal case related to the parking issues at the Hot Springs Trailhead. As previously reported, parking woes at the trailhead have come to a head in the last few months, as four members of the community took legal action against the County in April in response to a proposed parking project near the trailhead. The parking project could add up to 62 parking spots in the public right-of-way in the area, which has become increasingly popular due to the active hot springs and exposure on social media sites. The County describes the project as a right-of-way restoration project, which involves limited removal of road encroachments and minor road grading for the purpose of improving sight distance, and to allow parking in the public space adjacent to the Hot Springs Trailhead along East Mountain Drive.
The Court granted the injunction and imposed a bond of $10,000, noting in the published opinion the following: “It appears highly likely to this Court that many projects which are subject to CEQA environmental review requirements can involve an agency’s conduct of discrete actions which would normally be well within the agency’s enforcement authority. The fact that the actions are being taken as part of, and in support of, a greater project that is potentially subject to CEQA review, cannot and should not immunize County from injunctive relief or legal responsibility under CEQA, simply because such actions are ordinarily within the County’s enforcement authority. In other words, while an agency cannot normally be ordinarily enjoined from lawfully exercising its enforcement authority, where the exercise of that authority is or could be in violation of applicable State law such as CEQA, the exercise of that authority would no longer be lawful, and not only can but should be subject to injunction – if the factors supporting issuance of an injunction otherwise exist.”
The next Montecito Association meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 14. For more information, visit montecitoassociation.org.