Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

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Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%
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Wastewater Pipe Rehabilitation (Photo: City of Santa Barbara)

Source: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

[Tuesday], the Santa Barbara City Council received an update on the City’s progress in reducing sewage spills, prompted by a lawsuit filed by local water watchdog Santa Barbara Channelkeeper in 2011. Thanks to heightened investments in sewer system inspections, cleaning and repairs, the City reduced spills from a high of 41 in 2009 to 7 in 2018, or by 83 percent.

Channelkeeper Executive Director Kira Redmond testified before City Council after they heard the staff report, applauding them for their success to date in reducing spills, which pollute creeks and beaches, threaten public health, and harm aquatic life. 

Channelkeeper filed suit against the City in 2011 for violations of the federal Clean Water Act related to its inordinately high rate of sewage spills after a decade of advocacy yielded little progress. Channelkeeper and the City signed a settlement agreement in 2012 which required the City to significantly increase its level of effort and funding to repair and replace leaking sewer pipes and progressively reduce sewage spills. They agreed to extend the settlement for an additional three years in 2016 due to insufficient results, and Channelkeeper hired an expert to help the City design a more effective sewer system management program.

As a result, the City has invested an additional $20 million since 2012 to improve its spill response and reporting protocols, enhance sewer pipe inspection and cleaning efforts, and repair or replace 38 miles of sewer pipe (equivalent to 15 percent of its entire 257 miles of sewer mains), including 10 miles of pipes that were identified as having a high risk of leaking to storm drains, creeks and the ocean. This represents an average of 5 miles of sewer pipe repaired or replaced each year since the settlement was signed, or twice as much as the City would have fixed absent the legal agreement.

That investment has paid off in spades, says Redmond, with the City achieving a spill rate of only 2.7 per 100 miles of sewer pipe – well below the California average. “Channelkeeper is pleased with the progress the City has made in improving the performance of its sewer system and reducing sewage spills, which translates directly into less pollution in our creeks, beaches and ocean. We recognize that litigation isn’t the most agreeable way to get things done, but on occasion it’s necessary, and in this case it’s been extremely effective and yielded significant, tangible improvements that benefit our environment and our community.”

In her testimony, Redmond urged the City Council to continue its investment and progress in reducing sewage spills beyond 2020, when Channelkeeper’s settlement agreement with the City terminates.

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a-1568564923 May 23, 2019 06:56 AM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

"...Channelkeeper hired an expert to help the City design a more effective sewer system management program." Effective for who? The City's SLIP (Sewer Lateral Inspection Program) is a mess in both senses of the word. As homeowners, the City provides 0% advice or support unless you call them about 30 times and ask the right question. No guidance on who does fair and honest work, no guidance on anything other than, "YOU ARE PAYING FOR OUR INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS..." An absolute nightmare for us. We're already out $7K with probably another $7K in work to be done and we're still not sure if anything is going to "pass inspection." And YES, we are in constant contact with Public Works and have met with Council, but hasn't done us much good. If the City of Goleta can take care of their community's sewer lateral systems without causing stress and financial distress to its residents, why can't the City of SB do the same?

SantaBarbaraObserver May 23, 2019 10:24 AM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

The new poly sewer lines that are done via a trench-less technique will never crack, leak or be invaded by roots. They are not cheap, but they are a one time expense that every property built before 1990 (est) will have to deal with at some point. Just chalk it up as another cost of ownership. Sure its a big bite but its a better than dealing with a new septic system every decade or two.

PitMix May 23, 2019 10:05 AM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

What I dislike about the city's policy on sewer laterals is planting a tree on top of your sewer line without allowing you to maintain the tree, and then when the roots to destroy your line, making you pay the cost of the replacement. It can go as high at $20K if you hire plumbers to do the digging. I would be glad to support a group that wants to make noise about this at City Hall.

a-1568564923 May 23, 2019 11:25 AM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

Read again. Total NUMBER of spills was reduced from 41 to 7 spills (83% reduction). It is unlikely spills were directly to the ocean. There is no volume of spills reported (but it would be interesting to know).

a-1568564923 May 22, 2019 04:39 PM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

Well, I was one of those who paid to hook up properly (the old orangeburg pipe was deteriorating). What a mess. Finding the right guy to do the digging is a must. About 10 years after we completed our hook up, The City had its subsidy program. Too bad that wasn't retroactive.

Lucky 777 May 22, 2019 12:28 PM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

"Thanks to heightened investments in sewer system inspections" one by one the residents of upper West Valerio Street are being contacted and told their sewer lateral has not passed inspection. This new government effort has presumably funded the video camera that inspected the street sewer. In other cities repair of it would be the responsibility of the City, but Santa Barbara changed the rules a few years back and made property owners responsible. So each resident is paying over $1,000 for the permit to have a dig in the center of the street and several thousands for the plumbers' work, connecting to an ancient set of pipes. The City could have done it all in one fell swoop, new pipes and laterals bloc by block, but instead we have had a year of intermittent disruptions and individual expense.

Factotum May 22, 2019 04:54 PM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

How much are their city mandated sewer projects costing each property owners - please can you share so the rest of us can plan ahead? Thanks.

a-1568564923 May 22, 2019 04:42 PM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

We've been through it. You're right. It's a lot of worrying and heartache. Too bad The City of Santa Barbara didn't do the work. It never made sense to me: we had to dig where it was all City property. And pay for everything, too.

a-1568564923 May 22, 2019 03:15 PM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

That is unfortunate, but it is not abnormal for the wye and lateral to be the responsibility of the property owner. If this responsibility switched recently, sounds like residents of SB missed a very important city council meeting. Too late to appeal? This will affect a lot of people in a big way, laterals can be very expensive.

a-1568564923 May 22, 2019 11:40 AM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

As a supporter of CK, I was disappointed when they sued. I guess I’ll change my mind now. I don’t mind increases in utility fees if they benefit our health and planet.

Icre84U May 22, 2019 10:52 AM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

I applaud the program; but the article should've mentioned the settlement (CV11-03624) also included the City paying Channelkeeper $402,500 in settlement and monitoring fees; this and the agreed upon capital improvements was why the City asked for a 10% rate hike in 2012.

PitMix May 22, 2019 10:34 AM
Santa Barbara Reduced Sewage Spills by 83%

If that is your issue, you can bring it up to the City Council yourself. Using What-About-Isms to divert attention away from the topic at hand is a poor strategy. I'm sure ChannelKeepers is concerned about all kinds of pollution but this was an easy although expensive fix to start with. The homeless problem in the US? Not so easy.

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