Dale Francisco, Santa Barbara City Councilmember
I read with interest an editorial in the San Diego Union Tribute on Aug. 12, titled “For Coastal Commission, a little history is in order,” especially the warning with which it closed: “No end to the drought in sight.” The editorial calls for expedited assistance from the Coastal Commission for California communities developing desalination plants. This message is pertinent for Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is in the process of reactivating its desalination plant in the midst of a severe, prolonged drought. Not only was 2013 California’s driest year on record, dating back to 1895, state officials are predicting that 2014 may be even drier. Tree-ring studies have shown that in the last two millennia, California has experienced decade- and even century-long droughts. California’s extremely brief history as a state may have occurred during a relatively wet period, and we may now be returning to a much drier “normal.”
Given this reality, permit-granting authorities such as the Coastal Commission need to approach approvals in the light of a pending emergency — a lack of fresh water for communities around the state. Santa Barbara’s water supplies are dwindling rapidly. If water levels continue to drop, our main fresh water supply, Lake Cachuma, will not be able to deliver water to the city by 2017. While conservation and water recycling are critical — and we are pursuing both — they are not sufficient to sustain us. The city needs other sources of water. Desalination is a reliable, local supply source and should be fast-tracked into production.
Up and down the California coast, cities are turning to desalination as a method of ensuring adequate supplies of water in the face of extended drought. As noted in the State’s Water Action Plan, desalination can be a tool to improve reliability and self-reliance at the regional and local levels. Jurisdictions seeking to include this source of new water in their portfolios should be encouraged and assisted by the Coastal Commission, and other agencies, with the understanding that the drought has in fact created an urgent need for water.