In its most detailed response to a mass tort lawsuit blaming it in part for the catastrophic flood and debris flow of January 9, the Montecito Water District has asserted that leaks from its facilities accounted for less than one quarter of one percent of the early-morning deluge. The district claims it lost only 5.8 million gallons due to disaster-related ruptures to pipelines and fire hydrants, not the 8 million or 9 million gallons its director, Nick Turner, previously stated and the amount cited in the lawsuit filed by a handful of property owners. They claim the district’s failure to have backup generators powering automatic shutoff valves to water transmission lines contributed in significant fashion to the damage inflicted by the flooding. To the extent district waters contributed to the storm damage, the litigants assert, the district should be held financially responsible. According to district spokesperson Laura Camp, the district has never had any automatic shutoff valves, so the failure to maintain a backup generator is a meaningless charge. “People have this Star Trek, control-board fantasy notion that we have power-activated remote-control equipment,” she said.
Camp stated the district lost 5.8 million gallons; that compares, she said, with 200 million gallons that fell during the most intense 15 minutes of the storm. She added that the district’s water losses occurred over an 11-hour period and via 300 ruptures and breaks throughout the entire system. Joseph Liebman, one of the attorneys suing the water district, said the new revelations raised more questions than they answered. “It’s disingenuous to talk about how much total water fell,” he stated. “What’s relevant is how much fell above East Valley Road.” That’s where the district’s main water line runs, and that’s where seven of its storage tanks are located. Liebman said the information he relied upon in the lawsuit was information provided by Turner to various media outlets. “It’s a very different story we’re hearing now,” he said. “The accuracy of the new information will have to be analyzed by experts.”