SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

The City of Santa Barbara is one big step closer to restarting the desalination facility.

The Coastal Commission said Santa Barbara can move forward with the process to restart the existing plant after confirming permits are valid.

In May, city water officials went to Sacramento to state their case that the permits from the 1990s are still active. One of the points included upkeep of the facility. Even though the plant has been in a state of hibernation for the past two decades, the city has maintained it. That has cost more than $2 million.

Santa Barbara needs desalinated water by 2017. If the permits were found to be no good, it would take five to 10 years to get new ones.

Joshua Haggmark, the acting water resources manager, said luckily that's not the case.

"It's one hurdle of many that we are glad we could clarify. And I think it did help us to sit down with them and walk them and the state agencies through the city's approach to our desalination facility," he said.

The plan is to use the plant as a water-shortage supply, not as a permanent resource.

If the rain comes, that could postpone the plant's reopening.

Even if it is restarted, it's not going to make up for the drought. The current plan is to have the facility produce a little more than 20 percent of what the city uses.

On an average year, residents use 14,000 acre-feet of water. If and when it's up and running, the desalination plant would put out 3,000 acre-feet.

"It's very expensive. Just for that 3,000 acre feet a year, we're looking at roughly $5 million just to operate the facility for that small amount of water. And our whole budget for water is $36 million, so it's a pretty significant part of the whole water budget," said Haggmark.

Next steps include getting a permit to put the pumps back in the ocean to draw in salt water that would go to the Yanonali Street plant.

"I think it's important for the community to know, this isn't just some open-ended pipe," said Haggmark.

He said screens will keep fish and other sea creatures out, but some eggs could get through.