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Desalination Plant In Santa Barbara Now Supplying 30% Of City's Needs; Hosting Public Tours

Some ocean water on Santa Barbara County’s coastline is soon going to undergo a transformation. Roughly three million gallons of salt water is turned into drinking water a day at the City of Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination plant.

The plant, which is just a few blocks from the ocean between West Beach and Highway 101, has been up and running for more than a year. Now for the first time, the media has been invited to tour the facility, and this weekend the public can see it.

The plant’s story is actually a long one. Facing a drought in the 1980’s, the City of Santa Barbara moved to build a desalination facility. Joshua Haggmark is the City of Santa Barbara’s Water Resources Manager.

Haggmark says shortly after the plant was completed in the early 1990’s, the region got heavy rainfall, and the plant wasn’t needed. Still, the city decided to keep and maintain it for future droughts.

One of the problems with the original desalination process was its high cost, because the filteration process to purify water takes a lot of electricity. Over the two decades since the plant was originally built, however, the technology took huge strides forward.

It’s much more energy efficient, and new filter systems take away the danger of sea life being sucked into the system or being hurt by brine that’s a part of wastewater.

Haggmark says when the city decided in 2014 to reactivate the plant, it decided to make it state of the art. Now it’s up and running, supplying about 30% of Santa Barbara’s daily water supply.

The water is still three to four times more expensive that water from more conventional sources, but that's partly offset by the fact that there is a guaranteed supply. The rebuilt facility is also modular, so its capacity could easily be tripled if the city needs more water, or neighboring water agencies decide to buy into the project.

Members of the public can take tours of the facility this coming Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The tour slots are offered on a first come, first served basis.

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