Pen finally met paper on Wednesday, making official the 50-year water supply agreement between the city of Santa Barbara and the Montecito Water District. A virtual ceremony was held via Zoom on Wednesday morning, as representatives from both jurisdictions were joined by local elected officials to celebrate what was considered by many as regional planning done right.
One of the most vocal critics of a controversial seawater desalting plant, proposed for the Huntington Beach coastline, will no longer be on the state’s local water board when it votes to approve the project later this year.
A South Coast community is celebrating a historic deal this week which will help lock in a reliable, drought-proof water supply for the next half century. The Montecito Water District is signing a 50 year water supply agreement with the City of Santa Barbara Wednesday. The water district is buying into the city’s desalination plant, which converts salt water into fresh water.
Seawater desalination operator Poseidon is poised to take over the Agua Hedionda Lagoon maintenance dredging that has been done by local power companies since 1954.
Permits are being obtained for the work to begin in November or early December with expectations to finish by mid-April, said Poseidon Senior Vice President Peter MacLaggan at a meeting earlier this month of the Carlsbad Beach Preservation Commission.
California American Water and Marina city officials are in the process of setting up talks on the company’s desalination project after exchanging letters over the past several weeks. In a Sept. 25 letter, Cal Am president Rich Svindland reached out to Marina officials, proposing talks aimed at resolving differences over the company’s paused desalination project and suggested a series of “possible options that could be mutually beneficial for the city, Cal Am, and the region as a whole.”
If there were any doubts remaining about whether California is getting hotter and drier, this summer has settled them. We’ve seen record-breaking temperatures and historic wildfires across the state.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors has approved a new and Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate structure that offers lower water rates to farmers in exchange for lower water supply reliability.
Unlike the current transitional program, the new program will allow new participants to join as a way to strengthen the region’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry. The program will take effect January 1, 2021, replacing the current program that ends December 31.
Ranking 19th in the nation, San Diego County boasts top crops in nursery, avocados, tomatoes, citrus, poultry, and strawberries, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau.
Unique program benefits all water users
The Water Authority will be working closely with its 24 member agencies to implement the program for 2021 by providing program details, such as qualifying criteria and the signup process. Participants in the existing transitional program will be allowed to take part in the permanent program on a temporary basis while being screened for eligibility under the new program. Member agencies have six months, through June 30, 2021, to verify eligibility for existing customers for the new program.
“This unique program will benefit all regional water users and the county’s robust agricultural economy,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “It helps farmers sustain their operations – and thousands of jobs – while favoring residential and commercial water customers in the event of future water supply reductions.”
Special rates designed to support regional farm economy
Farmers and growers who participate in the Water Authority program will receive a lower level of water service during water shortages or emergencies. That allows the Water Authority to reallocate those supplies to commercial and industrial customers who pay for full reliability benefits. In exchange, participating farmers are exempt from fixed water storage and supply reliability charges.
Under the permanent program in 2021, participants will pay $1,295 per acre-foot for treated water, while municipal and industrial users will pay $1,769 per acre-foot.
San Diego County is unusual among major metropolitan areas in the United States because it includes one of the country’s most valuable and productive farm sectors adjacent to one of the nation’s largest cities.
The region sustains 3.3 million people and a $245 billion economy, thanks to decades of regional investments in water supply reliability projects, including the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant and the biggest conservation-and-transfer agreement in U.S. history.
Permanent special agricultural water rate
The Water Authority has provided lower-cost water to growers in exchange for lower reliability since October 2008, when the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California began phasing out a similar program. Since that time, the transitional Water Authority program continued with a series of extensions that expire at the end of 2020.
In June 2020, the Water Authority Board set calendar year 2021 rates and charges, including a rate category for the new ag program. Future rates will continue to reflect cost-of-service standards and be defined annually as part of the rate-setting process.
The new permanent special ag rate was recommended by the Water Authority’s Fiscal Sustainability Task Force, which is assessing a variety of issues to ensure the agency’s long-term financial health. Regional farming leaders provided input to the task force on the parameters of the new program, which will be reevaluated in five years to assess current and forecasted demands and supplies.
The clock is ticking away this week on the reappointment of a key state regional water board member and vocal critic of a controversial, pending proposal for a seawater desalting plant in Huntington Beach.
There are mounting questions over whether Gov. Gavin Newsom will replace William von Blasingame — an Irvine resident first appointed to the regulatory seat in 2013 by former governor Jerry Brown — when his current term expires Sept. 30, ahead of his panel’s vote on the Poseidon Water Co.’s desalination proposal.
Membrane separations have become critical to human existence, with no better example than water purification. As water scarcity becomes more common and communities start running out of cheap available water, they need to supplement their supplies with desalinated water from seawater and brackish water sources.
The port city of Tianjin is in desperate need of water. The surface and groundwater supplies of this sprawling northeast Chinese metropolis have shrunk to dangerously low levels due to decades of reduced rainfall and overexploitation of the Hai River that flows through the city. According to the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau, the city’s per capita water resources are one-twentieth of China’s national average, far below the UN benchmark for a water-stressed region. Despite promoting water conservation and metering among residential and industrial users, Tianjin still faces shortages that drive its reliance on large-scale water-supply infrastructure like the South-North Water Transfer Project and seawater desalination.
In the United States, a similar situation is unfolding. After a prolonged drought between 2011-2015, California’s investment in desalination solutions to supply fresh water to the state’s dry south grew exponentially. While most American desalination plants are used to purify less-saline “brackish water” from rivers and bays, large-scale seawater operations have begun to proliferate in California, as well as Florida and Texas. California alone has 11 municipal seawater desalination plants, with 10 more proposed. Southern California-based Poseidon Water LLC opened America’s largest desalination facility in Carlsbad in 2015, which currently meets about 10 percent of San Diego’s water demand. With the capacity to produce 54 million gallons of water a day, this new desalination plant, as well as another one currently in the works at Huntington Beach, could ensure water security in Southern California.