6/19: All SBPL locations will be closed on Wednesday, June 19 for Juneteenth.


5/21-7/14: Eastside Library will be closed due to construction work.

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Contact Us

El Estero Water Resource Center:
(805) 568-1010
Sewer Lateral Inspection Program:
(805) 568-1032
Water Resources Lab:
(805) 568-1008
El Estero Tours:
Not offered at this time   

Preliminary and Primary Treatment:

Secondary Treatment:


El Estero Water Resource Center


The El Estero Water Resource Center (El Estero) has provided environmental and health protection for the City of Santa Barbara for the last 100 years. El Estero is committed to protecting our environment and public health and safety by maintaining an efficient and effective facility.  

The El Estero Water Resource Center is a focal point in environmental protection for Santa Barbara, treating 6 million gallons of wastewater per day from homes and businesses, and safely recycling much of that for beneficial uses. On average, each person in the City contributes 50 gallons of water per day to the wastewater system. Each house or business has a pipe that is connected to a network of underground pipes and pump stations, which carry the wastewater to El Estero Water Resource Center. At El Estero, wastewater is treated using physical and biological processes.

At El Estero Water Resource Center, wastewater is treated and then either discharged safely into the ocean or reused for a variety of purposes. The wastewater undergoes a series of treatments to remove solids that are suspended or dissolved in the water. Multiple biological processes allows good bacteria to feed on and breakdown the organic material present and disinfection by chlorine is used to destroy bacteria. Through these processes, there are 4 end products produced at the facility:

  • Treated wastewater is mixed with brine from the desalination facility across the street, then released 1.5 miles offshore into the ocean.

  • Recycled water from our tertiary treatment plant is used to irrigate schools, parks, and other sites.

  • 4 tons of biosolids are produced every day which is composted and used at farms and parks as a nutrient-rich soil amendment.

  • And lastly, bio-gas generated in the treatment process in converted to electricity to offset 70% of the electrical needs at El Estero.

El Estero Water Resource Center is also home to our Water Resources Laboratory which performs water quality analysis of drinking water, wastewater, and creek and ocean water.


FOG Facility

FOG stands for fats, oils and grease. The new FOG facility at El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant receives and pumps FOG material to anaerobic digesters. 

The anerobic digesters convert “grease to gas” utilizing the waste stream of selected fats, oils, and grease collected by Marborg Industries from area restaurants. 

Marborg, a locally owned and operated business, collects, screens, and delivers FOG liquids to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, thus reducing hauling and disposal costs.


The City of Santa Barbara’s first sewers were constructed in the 1870’s. in 1925 the City constructed a "screening plant" and ocean discharge outfall. The mechanically operated screens removed solids and debris immediately before the untreated wastewater was discharged into the ocean. The discharge occurred through 3,400 feet of 42 inch diameter cement pipeline terminating at an ocean depth of 42 feet.

The City’s growing population and increased environmental awareness led to the construction of El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant (El Estero) in 1951. El Estero provided state of the art pre-aeration and primary sedimentation for the City’s wastewater.

In 1972, the federal Water Pollution Act amendments became law. The amendments mandated more stringent regulations for the protection of water bodies receiving wastewater discharges. The law required that by 1983, all dischargers of treated wastewater must provide secondary treatment.

Anticipating the new law, in 1971 the City hired "Engineering Science," a firm specializing in the design of facilities for wastewater treatment and discharge. The firm’s recommendations for the treatment scheme and facilities needed to meet the new discharge requirements resulted in construction of the present Wastewater Treatment Plant.

1n 1971 the Santa Barbara electorate approved a bond issue of $7.7 million. The major share of the construction and related costs was provided by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ($24.4 million) and the state of California Water Resources Control Board ($4.1 million).

Construction of El Estero was completed in 1979, providing secondary treatment to the wastewater. Secondary treatment uses a biological process (activated sludge) to convert dissolved or suspended solid materials into a form more readily separated from the water being treated.

In 1987, the City continued upgrading El Estero with the construction of a tertiary water reclamation facility to provide recycled water for irrigation. Recycled water is supplied to parks, schools, commercial landscapes, golf courses, public restrooms, and more; thereby freeing up potable water for other uses in the City. Visit our Recycled Water page for more information.