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Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Negotiating Over Sewer Spills

A local environmental group and the city of Santa Barbara are battling it out over nearly two-dozen sewage spills in 2014.

In 2011, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and the city agreed to settle a Clean Water Act lawsuit.

For five years, the city promised to nearly double the number of miles of sewer pipes it repairs and replaces.

The city also agreed to reduce its number of sewage spills.

“Our agreement has been going for three years. The term is five years. The city missed the spill goal in the first year, met it in the second, and pretty far exceeded it in 2014,” said Channelkeeper executive director Kira Redmond.

Channelkeeper says the city was allowed only 12 spills in 2014 but ended up with 23.

“We discovered last fall, the city was exceeding its maximum number of spill goal under our agreement,” Redmond said.

“A lot of our 2014 spills were in small diameter pipes caused by roots, roots getting into the collection system,” said wastewater system manager Chris Toth.

Toth said the city’s sewage spill numbers are down overall since 2008 and 2009.

He said in 2014, only a few of the spills reached city creeks.

“The 23 spills we had only resulted in two spill events going into public water and that was only a total of roughly 600 gallons,” Toth said.

Redmond said each spill violates the Clean Water Act and shows there’s an ongoing problem with the sewer system.

“The city is required to report every spill that happens. They are required to estimate the amount of sewage that spills, and how much they are able to recover and how much goes to storm drains and the beach. So we know that number. What we don’t know is how much sewage is actually leaking underground through the broken sewer pipes and getting into storm drains that go to the ocean,” Redmond said.

Both sides recently went back to the negotiating table.

The city came up with a three-part plan to fix tree roots getting into pipes.

“They’re focused on accelerating their cleaning schedule of pipes that haven’t been cleaned in some time. As well as a chemical root control process that sprays foam into pipes that kills the roots. They also bought an acoustic sounding device which sends sound waves down the pipes and enables them to detect roots in the pipes.

Redmond says Channelkeeper will wait and see what happens this year.

If the spills continue at high levels, Channelkeeper says it will consider going back to court.

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