California's drought revives disused desalination plant

09 April 2015

With the drought in California entering the fourth year, the state's worst drought on record, the Santa Barbara county is planning to reopen a desalination plant closed decades ago.

The move has rekindled an old debate as to whether the state's water shortage was now so dire that Californians should embrace desalination - with its high economic costs and environmental risks.

Desalination was the last resort and Californians were at the last resort, according to Bob Roebuck, Santa Barbara's project manager for the plant's revival plan, San Jose Mercury News reported. Roebuck said the state reservoirs were drying up lakes were dropping.

By early June, the Santa Barbara City Council was expected to vote to spend around $40 million to modernise and restart the desalination facility.

The plant was built at a cost of $34 million during last major drought in the state in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But shortly after it opened in 1992, rains poured in abundance. Because of the steep productions costs, the city shut down the plant three months later and sold its filters to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, a storm with strong energy in the upper part of California, fell apart in the lower half of the state including Santa Barbara County on Tuesday.

Though a few towns had driving rain, with an occasional downpour, in others, there was little runoff that would make a difference, especially in the largest water source, Cachuma Lake, which remains at a critically low level.

According to the latest measurement it was just below 28 per cent of its capacity.

Santa Barbara County this season received half of the amount of rainfall it normally receives. 

According to weathermen a series of storms in a row were needed to raise the water storage levels, and saturate the soils.  That was not in the upcoming forecast and the four year drought continued to dominate the weather pattern.

The City of Santa Barbara was considering a Stage Three drought declaration later this month, with increased water rates from July.

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