A portion of this increase will pay for intensified efforts to improve the City’s aging sewer pipes in order to reduce pollution to local creeks and beaches.
Six percent of the proposed ten percent increase is related to a settlement agreement that the City of Santa Barbara signed with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper to settle a Clean Water Act lawsuit the environmental group filed against the City last year.
This one-time six percent increase amounts to $2.16/month (or $25.92/year) for the average household. This is in addition to a previously planned four percent increase to replace antiquated equipment at the sewage treatment plant, which is unrelated to the settlement with Channelkeeper. The combined ten percent increase would bring Santa Barbara’s sewer rate to just over $39/month, still lower than that of most other neighboring municipalities.
Channelkeeper is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds through science-based advocacy, education, field work and enforcement.
“It’s Channelkeeper’s job to defend our community’s interest in – and right to – clean water,” said Kira Redmond, executive director for Channelkeeper. “We investigate, advocate, and, when absolutely necessary, litigate to protect that right and abate the sources of pollution to Santa Barbara’s creeks and beaches. One of those, unfortunately, is sewage,” she said.
Like many other cities, Santa Barbara’s sewer pipes are old and deteriorating. As a result, Santa Barbara has suffered a disturbingly high number of sewage spills aboveground, as well as a chronic problem of “exfiltration” - leakage of sewage out of broken pipes underground and into storm drains that lead to Santa Barbara’s creeks and beaches.
Channelkeeper worked diligently for 11 years, using research, outreach, education, and advocacy to persuade the City to address these problems (click here for a detailed history of these efforts). Despite these efforts, the number of sewage spills continued to climb, to a record high of 42 in 2009 (triple the statewide average) and 35 in 2010.
At that point, the City did make some effort to address the problem, including accelerating its sewer pipe cleaning schedule. While Channelkeeper recognized this effort, they found that it was not a sufficient long-term solution to fixing the City’s aging and leaking sewer pipes. Therefore, Channelkeeper filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit in early 2011 to force the City increase its investment in repairing and replacing leaky sewer pipes in order to stop the illegal flow of sewage to Santa Barbara’s creeks and beaches.
After nearly a year of negotiations, Channelkeeper and the City reached an agreement to settle the lawsuit this past March. The legally binding settlement agreement requires the City to spend an additional $4.5 million over the next five years to improve the operation and maintenance of its sewage system, reduce sewage spills, and nearly double the number of miles of sewer pipes it repairs and replaces, with a focus on those that have the highest risk of leaking to storm drains. The proposed six percent rate increase will pay for these additional improvements to the City’s deteriorating sewer pipes.
“Channelkeeper supports the rate increase and commends the City’s commitment to upgrading our aging sewer infrastructure,” said Redmond. “This additional investment will go a long way towards cleaning up Santa Barbara’s beaches, which unfortunately are chronically polluted and often unsafe for human contact recreation.”
“Santa Barbara’s beaches and coastal waters are among our City’s greatest assets, and our citizens care passionately about clean water,” said Sherry Madsen, President of Channelkeeper’s Board of Directors. “This one-time 6% rate increase will pay huge dividends by better protecting public health, the environment and Santa Barbara’s tourism and recreation dependent economy, and we thank Santa Barbarans for stepping up to the plate to collectively make this investment to improve our community,” she said.