A bevy of leaky sewer pipes and related sewage spills were at the heart of a lawsuit settled out of court this week between the City of Santa Barbara and locally based water quality watchdog Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. The settlement, which guarantees that the city will spend some $26 million over the next five years on replacing the most troublesome old pipes from its vast underground network (256 miles of sewer mains, to be exact), fund efforts to raise public awareness, and provide training for various low-impact development features such as rain gardens.

Driving the lawsuit, which was officially filed last April, was the city’s sordid run of sewage spills in 2009 and 2010, 42 and 35, respectively. And while the city was well aware of and already working to remedy the problem via its annual practice of replacing roughly one percent of overall pipe inventory and specifically cleaning out the more leak-prone sections, this week’s settlement not only guarantees that those improvements will continue but also that the rehabilitation and replacement projects will be essentially doubled for the next half-decade with specific attention given to the worst offending pipes. City’s Public Works Director Christine Andersen pointed out this week that the annual work already taking place reduced the number of spills in 2011 to 12 events and, thus far this year, 4.

“This is a banner day for Santa Barbara’s creeks and beaches, and for the citizens and visitors who enjoy them and the wildlife that depend on them,” exalted Channelkeeper Executive Director Kira Redmond on Tuesday. The terms of the settlement are now subject to a comment period from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and barring any unforeseen setbacks, the terms will be read into the record in Federal District Court in 45 days.


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