Santa Barbara Channelkeeper served legal notice that it intends to sue the City of Santa Barbara for violating the Clean Water Act, citing 171 untreated or partially treated sewage discharges that have occurred in the past five years. Since November 2008, the environmental watchdog group says 57 leaks have made it into storm drains or city creeks; two have caused beach closures. Most of these spills took place due to cracks or ruptures in the 277 miles of sewage pipes that City Hall maintains. Much of this pipe is made of clay and was installed before 1960. For Channelkeeper to withdraw its legal threat, City Hall needs to complete an exhaustive inventory of all sewer mains and greatly accelerate the rate at which the pipes are replaced. Director Kira Redmond stated Santa Barbara experienced 15 leaks per 100 miles in 2009; the statewide average, she said, was five.
Rebecca Bjork, the city’s Water Resources chief, released a statement expressing “surprise and disappointment” with Channelkeeper, stating that her department has taken aggressive action to reduce both the number and severity of discharges. Bjork said there were only three such spills in the past six months, all were minor, and none made it to the ocean. Given the pace of changes now underway, Bjork said Santa Barbara’s would soon be one of the cleanest performing sewage systems in the state. Redmond said she’s hoping to meet with Bjork within the next 60 days to work out a deal. If not, she said, she would file the lawsuit.