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Local News

Storm Causes Major Damage to Montecito Water Distribution System

Montecito's storage reservoirs drained when pipelines broke during mudslides, flooding; South Coast Conduit appears intact

Crews examine storm damage to the Montecito Water District’s “highline” distribution water main. Click to view larger
Crews examine storm damage to the Montecito Water District’s “highline” distribution water main.  (Nick Turner photo)

The deadly storm that hammered southern Santa Barbara County early Tuesday damaged the Montecito Water District’s distribution system and drained its storage reservoirs, and officials worried it had also compromised the South Coast Conduit that connects the area to Lake Cachuma.  

The district serves about 4,500 customers in Montecito and Summerland and many of them had no water service as of Wednesday, and the district had very minimal supplies for those who do, said Nick Turner, general manager of the Montecito Water District.

Its primary distribution water main runs along the reservoirs, which are stationed along East Mountain Drive at a high point in the district.

During the storm, the “highline” water main was taken out at a majority of creek crossings, and then all the reservoirs emptied, Turner said.

The reservoirs, which are large storage tanks, hold 12 million gallons and two were closed at the time.

An estimated 8-9 million gallons flowed out of the reservoirs “with the majority of that going down the creeks” after the pipeline was damaged Tuesday, according to Turner.

While the district has an automatic SCADA system to monitor pipelines and shut valves when necessary, it doesn’t work without power.

Power was out during the storm and the district’s backup generators do not all come on automatically.

“There is an automatic system, SCADA, but with the power off and no way to access the site to get generators up and running, SCADA doesn’t work without power,” Turner said.

People were concerned the South Coast Conduit was damaged in the storm, but the good news is that it appears intact, the county said. 

The South Coast Conduit conveys water from Lake Cachuma to Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria. 

Water agencies thought it may have been damaged in the storm, and it stopped deliveries to Montecito and Carpinteria water districts Tuesday.

It has since been tested and appears intact, according to the county, and started delivering water to the Ortega Ridge Reservoir, which supplies Summerland, on Thursday. 

“We believe there is at least one part of the conduit that was compromised before it reaches Montecito,” Fray Crease, manager of the Santa Barbara County Water Agency, told Noozhawk on Wednesday.

A map of the South Coast Conduit and Jameson Reservoir connections to the Montecito and Summerland area. Click to view larger
A map of the South Coast Conduit and Jameson Reservoir connections to the Montecito and Summerland area.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

The break was believed to be in the area of Cold Spring Canyon, she said, and crews from the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board were on scene Wednesday making an assessment and trying to determine both short-term and long-term fixes.

“They’re going to dig it out and see what kind of damage is there,” Crease said.

In an update Thursday morning, she said the conduit appears to be intact and “the loss of water appears to be through two of the Montecito Water District’s pump stations that draw from the SCC.

COMB general manager Janet Gingras did not respond to a request for comment.

Turner said Montecito Water District crews and contractors are assessing damage to the “highline” transmission pipeline along the reservoirs and at least three other significant repair spots within the pipeline distribution system.  

The storm’s debris flows sheared off at least 20 hydrants in the district, which were later manually shut off, Turner added.

Montecito is working on restoring its system, whether through temporary or permanent fix, but was also waiting on news of the South Coast Conduit, Turner said.

“Until that system is up and running, and they’re on it from what we know, we won’t have the ability to fully charge our system again,” Turner said.

Adding to Montecito’s water problems is possible damage to the pipeline between Jameson Reservoir and Doulton Tunnel and its lack of substantial groundwater supplies.

Groundwater makes up about 15 percent of Montecito’s annual water supply, with the rest coming from surface water from Cachuma and Jameson.  

There is “very little water supply” since the district lost all its stored water, has reduced deliveries from Jameson and no water from the South Coast Conduit, Turner said.

Turner had no estimate on how long the outages would last or how widespread the water outages were within the district, noting that crews still cannot access certain areas because of storm debris.

He'll have a better idea once crews can access all the facilities and see what other repairs need to be done, he said.

It could be days or as much as a week, he added. 

The district hopes to get some emergency funding for repairs.

Some Summerland customers have water service, from the Ortega Ridge reservoir, and it could last a while if people conserve their use, Turner said.

He asked people to only use water for essential uses, if they have service.

The South Coast Conduit is delivering water to the reservoir again, so Summerland is supplied. 

Emergency officials have discussed the possibility of trucking in potable water for Montecito residents, Crease said, although that would provide only very limited supplies.

The Carpinteria Valley Water District was also affected by the break in the South Coast Conduit, but is able to relying on groundwater, according to General Manager Robert T. McDonald.

“We’re lucky and fortunate to have groundwater supplies,” McDonald said. “As far as water supply, we have enough well capacity to meet our current demand.”

The district’s 4,500 metered customers use about 3 million gallons of water a day, McDonald said.

Damage from the flooding to the district’s infrastructure was minimal, McDonald said — “a couple of main breaks were were able to isolate pretty quickly.”

County issues closure order for food facilities within Montecito Water District 

The Montecito Water District issued a boil water notice to all its customers because of the loss of water storage in the reservoirs and the water main breaks. 

Bottled water distribution centers were set up at the Montecito Fire Station No. 2, 2300 Sycamore Canyon Road, and the shopping center at San Ysidro and East Valley roads, Turner said Wednesday. Distribution was available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.

The Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services issued a closure notice to all restaurants, markets and other facilities serving food within that area.

Facilities with power can open for business as long as they serve unopened, commercially prepackaged foods, according to the county.

They “may not prepare, handle or serve any open foods, including fresh produce, until the boil water notice is lifted,” the county said.

Environmental Health head Larry Fay said they sent out notices to about 70 facilities and would be following up with them.

“Basically once we don’t have potable water it really restricts what you can do in terms of food service,” Fay said.

“You can’t do food prep if you don’t have a supply of running water.”

Food facility operators can call the Environmental Health Services with questions, during business hours at 805.681.4900 and after business hours at 805.896.4443.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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