Friday, November 16 , 2018, 5:10 am | Fair 47º


COMB’s Second Barrel Project Faces New Stumbling Block

Work is basically on hold until a federal permit is obtained; the Cachuma board also discusses the problem of mussels and elects new officers

Like a row of dominoes missing a few pieces, the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board’s second barrel project — an 8,200-foot section of water pipeline meant to back up the first reach of the South Coast’s main water artery — lacks one particular federal permit upon which all other permits from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are hinged.

Focused on archaeological and historic resources, the permit — called the 106 permit — requires further study of Native American cultural sites, as well as in-depth documentation of the physical parts of the 1950s-era Cachuma project, deemed by a few federal and state agencies to be a candidate for the National Register of Historic Places and which will have to be destroyed in order to make way for the new pipeline.

While the need for the permit didn’t come to light until this spring, it’s not yet clear when studies and reports required for its completion will be finished. As it stands, work that can be done by contractors related to the second barrel project is extremely limited until the permit is filed and a notice to proceed is issued by the Bureau of Reclamation.

“Our consultants are moving on schedule,” COMB General Manager Kate Rees said, adding that she is unsure where the bureau is on its end of the permit-related work.

The question raised by board members at this week’s COMB meeting was directed at what to do regarding contractors that have already bid on the project, estimated to cost about $9 million. The apparent low bidder is Jim Blois of Oxnard-based Blois Construction, and although he projected stability of his prices for at least six months, he noted that subcontractor and materials costs would be difficult to predict.

“Beyond six months, it’s hard to say, but our price is good at least until then,” Blois said, asking the board if a possibility exists to begin steel work now instead of waiting until the permit has cleared.

Because the pipeline will be 48-inch-diameter, concrete-lined steel, Blois — whose concerns were echoed by Glen Hille of AECOM, COMB’s engineering consultant for the project — pointed out that engineering and constructing the pipe sections could take as long as four to six months. However, with restrictions imposed by permitting requirements, such action is not possible.

COMB President Das Williams, backed by Rees and most other board members, suggested that Blois’ bid receive a 60-day extension past its August deadline, but Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District 1 (ID1) representative Lee Bettencourt expressed concern that granting the extension would leave COMB wide open to other contractors wishing to litigate on the grounds of unfair selection practices.

ID1 General Manager Chris Dahlstrom called for submission of ID1’s indemnification agreement before bid extension. Because ID1 is in the Santa Ynez Valley, it will not be affected by the second barrel project, but the agency has been adamant that it be legally indemnified from any potential problems throughout the project’s long, slow and potentially litigious approval process.

The board decided to table the matter until a special board meeting scheduled for Aug. 2. By that time, Rees said, ID1’s indemnification agreement will be complete.

Mussels and the Cachuma Association

Quagga and zebra mussels have been a burgeoning problem for water managers around the country for some time, although Lake Cachuma, which makes up 80 percent of Santa Barbara County’s South Coast water supply, has remained free of contamination. Classified as filter feeders, the mussels have been known to deplete food sources relied upon by native fish, and have caused major problems when they attach in large numbers to valves and pipelines critical to water infrastructure.

The Colorado River, which supplies water to much of Southern California, has had to deal with significant infestation problems that are most often exacerbated when the tiny mussels are transferred from one body of water to another on the hulls of boats.

COMB and county officials were on hand to discuss measures aimed at preventing infestation. While the county Parks Department has a number of methods aimed at keeping the invasive mussels out of Lake Cachuma — namely, single-point boat access, thorough hull inspection and cleaning, and a 14-day quarantine period required for boats suspected of contamination — county Water Resources Deputy Director Tom Fayram called for stronger controls from the state level.

“The state has not provided any leadership on this problem,” Fayram said, pointing out that at Lake Nacimiento, in nearby San Luis Obispo County, there are 50 access points for boats, and that regulations related to mussel contamination are extremely lax. “There needs to be mandatory decontamination of boats getting out of the water at infected lakes.”

While the state checks all boats coming in from outside, intrastate boat transport is not closely monitored. Fayram suggested that boat registration fees, which currently stand at $10 every two years, be adjusted to raise revenue for boater education and outreach in a manner similar to what has been employed in the Midwest.

Fayram recently partnered with Carpinteria Valley Water District General Manager Charles Hamilton to form the Cachuma Association, an organization aimed at soliciting input from all of Lake Cachuma’s users and stakeholders. Designed to include a number of interests — including environmental groups, recreational boaters and fishermen, and anyone else who might have concerns about Cachuma issues — Hamilton said the association could help figure out how best to address the Quagga mussel issue.

“We want this to be an inclusive forum that will provide an educational outreach service that focuses on the complexity that is the Cachuma Project,” Hamilton said in a presentation at Monday’s COMB meeting. “This would facilitate a discussion that goes outside the water industry.”

New Officers

COMB elected a new slate of officers Monday, selecting Goleta Water District board member Lauren Hanson to replace Williams, who is running for state Assembly.

Montecito Water District board member Doug Morgan was unseated as COMB’s vice president in a 5-2 vote favoring Carpinteria Valley Water District board member Bob Lieberknecht.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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