Water Security for Santa Barbara County

Water Security for Santa Barbara County

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As I talk with people from all walks of life in Santa Barbara County, one topic comes up time and again: water.

Residents complain about the brown lawns carpeting our neighborhoods. Farmers worry about insufficient water, not just for their annual vegetable crops but also for the vines and orchards in which they have a significant investment.  And everyone is concerned about the mounting water and food prices threatening our pocketbooks.

After five years of scant rainfall, our current water challenges call for a shift to a new way of managing our water resources. While the County is not a water purveyor, it has a critical role to play in helping coordinate the work of the various water agencies. The County serves as the lead agency for the integrated regional water management program that was designed to encourage water-related organizations to work together. The State directs water bond funding to projects developed through the program, modeled on one that I helped develop for wetlands. In 2014, voters authorized a $7.12 billion bond for water quality, supply and infrastructure projects.  Projects with broad support are most likely to receive funds.

I know more than a little about strategies for water because I have spent my entire professional career working with different agencies and stakeholders involved with water issues—ranging from ensuring safe drinking water, to reducing stormwater runoff, to treating wastewater, and protecting surface water flowing in streams and rivers. I also pioneered a successful, multi-million dollar Southern California wetlands reclamation project. This novel partnership helped replenish sources of ground and surface water for human use while revitalizing habitats and creating good jobs.

Santa Barbara County needs a regional approach to secure sustainable sources of water that are dependable, safe and cost-effective. We must explore all techniques starting with the most affordable and efficient ones: wise use, capture, and reuse.

No supply of water will be sufficient if we waste it. We all need to adopt best conservation practices, reducing water demands and saving money. Agriculture can reduce costs by upgrading to cutting-edge irrigation methods, and the County should encourage this with technical assistance and economic incentives. Households can switch to drought tolerant landscaping.  Both residential and commercial establishments can install water-saving fixtures and appliances. Communities such as Goleta have reduced their water usage by up to 35%, and we can conserve even more by adopting water conservation practices used successfully throughout the world.

Another effective method is to create basins to capture stormwater, recharging groundwater aquifers, where stored water is not lost to evaporation. A new state program, the Healthy Soils Initiative, is designed to increase the ability of the soil to draw down and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, but also creates spongier soil that holds far more water, reducing irrigation needs while slowly recharging aquifers. These methods could be especially significant in our County, where we now shunt much of our limited rainwater to the ocean for flood control.  Rainwater is virtually pure and salt free so once the infrastructure is in place to capture this water, putting it to use is relatively simple and safe.

Wastewater reuse and recharge technologies that are reliable, economical, and safe already exist and are in wide use in Orange County and coming online elsewhere in Coastal Southern California. Wastewater from sanitary districts goes through micro-filtration, getting rid of tiny organisms such as bacteria. Then it is further purified through reverse osmosis. Finally, ultra violet light zaps any remaining particles. The water is tested, placed underground for a period of time, and pumped up later producing highly purified water at about half the cost of water from desalination plants.

Another reclamation technique is for sanitation districts to treat water through only the first stages, making it safe for landscaping. Treating water to the level appropriate to its use can save money. Water for landscaping need not be as pure as drinking water. So, communities can provide more “purple pipes” to carry this water where it is needed for landscaping and homeowners can similarly install grey water systems to direct water from showers or washing machines to the garden.

Which of these options best fits our needs? The answer is ALL OF THE ABOVE. California can meet as much as two-thirds of its water needs from these sources, but instead of managing water in separate silos, we need an integrated, regional approach to water management—where I have considerable experience.

The County needs creative leadership to achieve our goal of water security for ourselves and for future generations. I can do this, and would be honored to have the opportunity to provide such leadership as your 3rd District Supervisor.

Joan Hartmann