Just when the end was in sight, the double barrel project hits a jam that places the end date sometime in the unforeseeable future.

The project is a pipeline that would meet the water line from Lake Cachuma on the South side of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The conuit is seen as crucial by many on the South Coast because it would provide emergency backup to the aging South Coast Conduit. It would also allow the South Coast Conduit to be taken out of service for repairs.

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At the beginning of 2010, the majority of the Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board were locked in a debate with the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District Improvement District One. The district withheld its vote on the project over a disagreement on fisheries projects. Eventually both sides worked out their differences; the district was indemnified from the double barrel project and gave their yes vote.

However, the political aftermath of the debate left the governing bodies of the Cachuma project scarred. A second board – The Cachuma Conservation and Release Board – was abandoned by two of its members and is scheduled to dissolve at the end of 2010. The double barrel project had to be rebid and water boards bearing the weight of the global economic crisis were more closely guarding their pocketbooks.

Even with the delay caused by debate, the double barrel looked ready to move forward. Just when the member units of the Cachuma board were breathing a collective sigh of relief the project was blocked on multiple fronts.

In mid-May, a group of Indian tribes – including the Chumash – sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Cultural Resources Program requesting more research be done on the ground where the double barrel pipeline would be built. The tribes asked the bureau to insure that artifacts would not be disturbed by the new construction and requested that a tribal monitor be on hand during the construction.

The second blow came from the Bureau of Reclamation itself. Recently, the bureau had been conducting an inventory of historical buildings and the Tecolote Tunnel was added to a list of historic structures. Unfortunately for the Cachuma board, building the second barrel required the demolition of the south portal of the tunnel. Now that it was a historical resource the board would be required to carefully document the structure to mitigate its demolition.

The total cost to hire the consultants to do the further research came in just under $100,000. COMB General Manager Kate Rees wanted to make sure that they could begin their work quickly, so she called a special meeting of the board to approve the expanded expenditures.

Some on the board were reluctant to provide the funding and asked if the delay had been an oversight on the part of staff. Rees assured the board that the problems were unforeseeable and said they had come at the “final hour.” Rees also told the board that it was likely their current bid for the project could be held and told them grants from proposition 50 were likely to be retained if they moved quickly.

But that was not enough for the representative from the Montecito Water District. Doug Morgan said, “All this information was presented to the board and the board is extremely unhappy. There was considerable discussion of management failure and a very negative sort of response.”

Das Williams from Santa Barbara defended Rees, “I still think the project is vital. We have a bid that is substantially lower than anyone thought. This is a complex project and there is no way staff could have foreseen the delays in regards to getting the letter from the tribes.”

The money to pay for the consultants was shifted from one section of the budget that was unused.

The board voted to authorize the money to pay for the consultants, and Morgan was the only no vote on the board. Rees moved quickly to put the consultants to work with both the historian and archeologist beginning their work as early as Thursday. But even with quick action by the board, the process could take months and Rees said it could “potential push the project out substantially.”

brookshire@syvjournal.com