SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara city water officials are back from state meetings in Sacramento and San Francisco about restarting the dormant desalination facility.
To build or restart a desalination facility, cities must get permits. Santa Barbara officials believe its permit from 1996 is still valid today and should allow for the facility to produce fresh water again.
Santa Barbara is hoping to ease water woes by turning sea water into fresh water. But before the city can restart its existing desalination facility, officials had to travel to the state Capital to meet with the Water Resources Control Board, Ocean Council, Regional Water Quality Control Board and Coastal Commission.
The four groups have a concern that the existing permit may not be valid.
In 1991, an emergency permit was issued to build the facility and operate it for five years. But once the rain came, it was put in long-term storage mode.
"We then started the discussion immediately with the Coastal Commission that, 'OK, we want to make this a permanent facility.' And from '92 to '96 we were constantly working with them to satisfy their needs and in '96 we got a valid permit from them to operate the facility with no end date," said Joshua Haggmark, the acting water resources manager.
Haggmark believes that permit is valid. So he and two others made their case last week.
"Desalination is really, there really isn't too many things that can meet that volume of what that would be needed if this drought continues on," he said.
Once the state decides, there are three options for Santa Barbara.
If the permit isn't valid, it could take five to 10 years to go through the process. However, the city needs the desalinated water by 2017.
Santa Barbara could appeal that decision to the Coastal Commission Board.
The third option is the facility could be restarted on an emergency basis, but only for a short amount of time.
Many of the deciding factors have to do with how the plant will affect sea life.
"There's no one who's more sensitive about protecting the ocean than the city. So we're very interested in making sure whatever we do come up with is a sound and prudent investment and doesn't impact our marine environment," said Haggmark.
Santa Barbara should receive the decision in a week or two.