You may be a local, you may be a visitor, but how our water in Santa Barbara gets to our taps, to your hotel and restaurants is something most folks never consider. So CervnsCentralCoast paid a visit to one of Santa Barbara’s water treatment plants, the Cater Treatment Plant to uncover just how Santa Barbara and other similar cities get their water – it’s an inside look that few get to experience.
|Inside and underneath the plant, water moves through color coded pipes|
Every city has a water resources division who collect, clean, store and distribute our water. Moving water around seems like a simple process, but it is a complicated, highly refined system. To begin with Santa Barbara, like all of Southern California, is a semi-arid climate and though we are populated with trees and the Pacific Ocean gleams in the distance, we are not a water rich area. Cater is what’s known as a surface water treatment facility, obtaining its water from Lake Cachuma over the mountain, located in the Santa Ynez Valley. The water leaves Lake Cachuma through an intake tower which connects to a 6.4 mile-long tunnel underneath the Santa Ynez Mountains, then connects to the South Coast Conduit which conveys water to the Cater plant, all done by gravity flow. Water of course is a finite resource and it costs money to transport and clean water for public consumption.
Untreated surface water has a slightly negative charge so a positively charged coagulant chemical (aluminum chlorohydrate) is added which neutralizes the charge. An added polymer helps bind and adds weight to the suspended material in the water, so the tendency for water particles to push apart has been reduced, and they now clump together, known as coagulation. The water is put into a flocculation basin (really big paddle mixers turning very slowly) causing additional particle collisions, thereby making any suspended material in the water, algae and silt for example, heavy enough to drop to the bottom. Ozone disinfects the raw water at the beginning of the treatment process which helps oxidize dissolved minerals like iron and manganese, and conditions the water for a more efficient treatment process.
|The flocculation basins|
Then the water moves into a sedimentation basin where a large squeegee-type device rakes the heavy particles towards an auger which is removed to three solid recovery beds where the suspended materials dry naturally using sun the ambient wind. Once fully dry it looks like fine black dirt, and it’s stunning and slightly disturbing to see visually what has been removed from our water. There’s also a filtration system whereby the water percolates through 30 inches of carbon, then a foot of sand. Chlorine is still widely used in many water utilities and Cater adds chlorine at the very end of the treatment process to provide a “disinfectant residual” mean it helps kill of bacteria as it journey’s through the pipes towards the tap.
Water samples are routinely collected at the plant and run through multiple panels monitoring for turbidity, chlorine and bacteria, among a host of other things. Eventually the clean water is held in a “finished water reservoir,” ready to leave Cater and snake its way through a series of labyrinthine pipes. Cater processes an average of 18-20 million gallons of water per day.
Underneath your feet, regardless of what city you’re in, is a maze of hundreds of miles of pipes. These pipes are monitored constantly because a break in an underground pipe means the possibility of bacteria getting into the water supply. Additionally, pipes do not last forever, but out of sight, out of mind, right? Added to that is that certain soils have corrosive effects therefore pipes need to be replaced. Every city, including Santa Barbara, has a replacement goal for aging pipes to prevent any issues with our water becoming contaminated, but pipe replacement is a time consuming and costly endeavor. Blacktop needs to be pulled up, roads closed, repairs made, water needs to be rerouted and occasionally shut off, not to mention that residents don’t like to have detours on their way to work. But replacement is necessary. Without it, you might not have the water you expect.
|Water sources need constant protection|
Water Wisdom: Conserve and Preserve
Conserving water is a lifestyle choice. If the idea of using water wisely doesn’t create motivation for you, perhaps your cost savings will. Like it or not water costs are rising. Here are some easy, simple steps to employ, not only at home, but everywhere, helping to reduce your water footprint.
--Time your showers. The average shower uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute. How long do you lounge in the shower and how much water is used? Time yourself, you might be surprised.
--Use drought resistant landscaping. If you have traditional landscaping water your yards at night which allows the water to absorb more fully into the ground. Watering in the morning means the sun evaporates what you’ve just put on your grass. You will use less water and save money.
--Stop watering sidewalks and driveways. Far too many people, whether at home or at their place of business hose down their sidewalks. Grab a broom, burn a few calories and don’t waste water on concrete.
--Practice rainwater harvesting. In my house this is no more high-tech than letting the roof-gutter water fall into a plastic trash can. Then use that water for your fruit trees, herb garden, etc. You can get fancy with rain chains, but it’s simply about capturing rainwater and the bulk of rainwater is best accessed from your downspouts.
--Get involved in beach clean-up days and creek rehabilitation. We say we value our beaches, but they are constantly littered. The more we are attuned to the health of our creeks and ocean, the more likely we are to respect our water.
--Practice water conservation when you travel. Most hotels give you the option of not washing your bath towels and bed linens on a daily basis.
|By respecting our water we keep our rivers, creeks and oceans clean & healthy!|