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Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum Discusses

By Mayor Marty Blum and Steve Mack, City Water Resources Manager
October 9, 2006


Santa Barbara is situated in the central coast area of California and has a population of 90,000. Water supply today is adequate because we have developed a diversity of sources and an extensive water conservation program. This was not the case in the early 1990’s when much of the state experienced a significant loss of precipitation and drought conditions prevailed. Today almost 70 percent of our water customers are in single family (46 percent) and multiple family (23 percent) residential dwellings. Another 19 percent of water is sold to commercial and industrial users. Six percent of supply is used by dedicated irrigation. Six percent of water sold is recycled water.

The city’s water supply is based on a diverse combination of water infrastructure. The city relies primarily on surface water from Lake Cachuma and Gibraltar Reservoir, including Mission Tunnel. Groundwater is an important back-up supply for droughts and other emergencies. The city invested in a relatively small desalination plant when drought conditions made us realize that we cannot take water supply for granted. The desalination plant is not in operation, and using it in the future will depend on the trade-off between the availability and cost of other water supplies, and the cost of energy to run the desalination facility.

Currently, the city is involved in some major public water infrastructure projects. One of those projects is a multi-phase upgrade of the Cater Water Treatment Plant. Another is the recently completed Sheffield Reservoir replacement project.

We are very proud of our efforts to recycle water, and our “purple pipe” project has been a real boost to water conservation efforts. Roughly 200 million gallons of wastewater are recycled each year for irrigation of schools, public parks, golf courses and multifamily common areas. Additionally, some sites use recycled water for toilet flushing.

The city has a robust water conservation program, which includes implementing the California Urban Water Conservation Council’s (CUWCC) 14 best management practices. One element of the program is an aggressive effort to find and fix leaking water pipes to stem the flow of unaccounted for water. We continue to implement a main replacement program that involves replacing one percent of the underground pipes annually, which is equivalent to between 2-3 miles of pipes per year. Our statistical analysis suggests that the program has been effective. In the 1990’s we experienced as many as 220 water main breaks per year. Since 2000 the frequency of main breaks has been about 65 per year.

Conservation efforts focus both on programs designed to conserve indoor and outdoor water use. Indoor programs include an ambitious water check-up program that reaches from 350 homes and businesses each year. Participating in the Rinse-and'save program has accomplished the installation of 300 high-efficiency pre-rinse spray valves in restaurants. We require individual metering to each dwelling unit to promote awareness of water use. And, we have had an inclining block rate program since 1989 to help with demand management.

The other key city conservation effort involves programs designed to address outdoor water use. Santa Barbara has promoted an award winning Green Gardener Certification Program since 2000. This program trains gardeners in resource efficiency and pollution prevention landscape maintenance practices. Over 700 gardeners have been certified to date.

The city has been involved with large turf area water audits. Landscape design standards for water conservation have been in place since 1989, promoting water efficient landscaping and irrigation. We also employ a “Watering Index” and landscape watering calculator to help our customers appropriately schedule their irrigation controllers. Currently we are developing in partnership with the CUWCC an individualized landscape water budget program as another way of promoting efficient outdoor water use. We have achieved a preliminary 20 percent savings in water use by installing 170 smart irrigation controllers at our highest water using residential customers’ properties.

Last, but not least, the city water conservation program has an effective public information and youth education campaign. The city sponsors over 100 classroom presentations annually to instill the water conservation ethic in our youth. We make available water efficiency brochures, handouts and videos. The city sponsors a high school video contest to keep the students informed and interested in conservation. We also support a water hotline to answer questions from the public and provide a host of information on our website, www.SantaBarbaraCA.gov/water as well as participate in a regional water conservation website, www.sbwater.org.

Santa Barbara has come a long way in providing a reliable and affordable water supply for its citizens, businesses and institutions. The drought in the 1990’s was a call to action. While we invested in a desalination plant in the past, it has become an insurance policy for the future. We have been able to protect our water future through a combination of major water infrastructure investments and a wide variety of effective water conservation programs. One of our biggest investments is the time and effort we put into public education on the importance and value of water, especially with our young people who look at water use differently today than in the past.