The settlement agreement commits the City to a rigorous and proactive program to upgrade its aging sewer system.

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, a local grassroots nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds, announced today that it has signed an agreement with the City of Santa Barbara to settle the lawsuit it filed against the City last year. The agreement, memorialized in a legally-binding Consent Decree, was submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice yesterday. After the expiration of a 45-day period for comment by these agencies, the Consent Decree will be entered by the Federal District Court.

“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,” said Kira Redmond, Channelkeeper’s Executive Director.

“The City’s agreement with Channelkeeper will protect public health as well as our tourism- and recreation-driven economy by putting an end to chronic leaks and spills that pollute our water,” Redmond continued. “Santa Barbara used to be one of the worst-polluting sewage agencies on the Central Coast, but as a result of Channelkeeper’s legal pressure, it will soon be one of the best.”

In 2009, Santa Barbara’s sewage spill rate was triple the California average. In addition to spills, sewage also “exfiltrates,” or leaks out of broken sewer pipes and into storm drains that lead to Santa Barbara’s creeks and beaches. After trying for nearly a decade to convince the City through outreach, education and advocacy to do what needed to be done to fix its antiquated sewage system, Channelkeeper filed a lawsuit last year against the City under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

Channelkeeper’s lawsuit alleged that the City violated the CWA permits for its sewage and storm drain systems, which prohibit sewage spills and the discharge of anything but stormwater into storm drains.

Sewage contains high levels of pathogens, toxic pollutants, nutrients, oil and grease and can pollute surface water and groundwater, threaten public health, adversely affect aquatic life, and impair the recreational use and aesthetic enjoyment of our waterways. Sewage spills can also damage property and result in beach closures, harming our local economy.

The agreement struck between Channelkeeper and the City requires the City to spend more than $26 million over the next five years to upgrade the sewer system, drastically 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 exfiltration.

As part of the agreement, the City will also fund a project to raise awareness, provide training and install Low Impact Development features such as rain gardens on numerous properties throughout Santa Barbara, which will help to further reduce pollution to local creeks and beaches.

“The City’s new program embodies leading-edge sewage system management and sets an example for pollution prevention statewide,” said Redmond. “We applaud Santa Barbara for stepping up to the plate to protect our beaches.”

Sherry Madsen, President of Channelkeeper’s Board of Directors, said “Channelkeeper is pleased that we were able to work cooperatively with the City to forge an effective and proactive solution to Santa Barbara’s sewage pollution problem. Our agreement is a win-win-win for Channelkeeper, the citizens of Santa Barbara, and the environment.”


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