Santa Barbara's desal plant once again turning seawater into tap water

May 30, 2017

Santa Barbara residents are now drinking treated seawater when they turn on their taps. City officials announced Tuesday the Santa Barbara water distribution system now includes water from the city’s long-shuttered - but recently reactivated - desalination plant. 

Production at the Charles E. Meyer desalination plant is in the start-up and testing phase. When fully up and running, the plant can produce up to three million gallons a day. That’s about a third of the city’s total demand.

Santa Barbara also gets its drinking water from the Cachuma and Gibraltar reservoirs, groundwater and state water.  

The plant was originally built in 1991, but placed in standby mode for the past 25 years. In mid-2015, as a result of the drought, the city council voted to reactivate the long-shuttered plant.

“The facility uses state-of-the-art technology and design practices to reduce electrical demand and environmental impacts, while providing a critical water supply for the city,” said Santa Barbara Water System Manager Cathy Taylor.

According to city staff, the plant works like this: “seawater enters the desalination facility from 2,500 feet offshore, passing through the wedge wire screens at velocities of less than half a foot per second (which is less than typical ocean currents). Once on shore, the seawater goes through a series of filters that remove sediment, bacteria, viruses, and minerals (including salt), to produce ultra-pure water. The city’s desalination facility uses reverse osmosis treatment for removal of salt from seawater.”

City staff said the water produced by the desal plant “meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water regulations.” It’s also softer than area groundwater supplies, meaning residents don’t need to use a water softening device to treat it.

More information on the plant can be found on the city’s website.