The Ortega Reservoir, which holds treated water for the Montecito and Carpinteria Water districts, is leaking out its bottom at a rate of 50 gallons a minute. In hopes of abating the flow, Montecito district officials had emptied the four-acre holding pond for the months of March and April. Just last week, they had the reservoir refilled.
The leak has become the subject of litigation between the Montecito district and engineering contractor Penfield & Smith, as well as with Cushman Construction. The leak sprung shortly after a four-acre cover was affixed to the 21-million-gallon facility - at a cost of $18.5 million - in 2007. The cover was installed in order to make Ortega Reservoir comply with new federal water quality requirements that aim to prevent carcinogens from forming in the water when sunlight hits leaves, branches, and other particulate matter suspended in chemically treated water. In addition, the cover maintains the potency of chlorine disinfectant added to the water.
Because of the leak, the district will fill the reservoir far less than its holding capacity; this could have significant impacts on the district’s ability to serve customers, particularly in hot summer months when water consumption for Montecito’s lush expansive lawns increases. Efforts to fix the leak - first using scuba divers and then by emptying it - have proven fruitless thus far. The reservoir, while operated by the Montecito Water District, is owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation which is monitoring the situation to ensure that the leak does not undermine the structural and earthen foundations on which it rests.
The Ortega Reservoir is important because it holds water treated at the Cater Treatment Facility - owned and operated by the City of Santa Barbara - so it can then be distributed to customers in Montecito and Carpinteria.