When our sewage treatment outfall pipelines were planned at the middle of the last century, they solved a much smaller problem than we have today. Development and population increases have outstripped pipeline upgrades, so capacity — especially during storms — is questionable.
My charter service was hired in the past to collect water samples near the Montecito outfall, which is alarmingly close to the beach right near the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore and Butterfly Beach. Samples were tested for fecal bacteria and such things and came back relatively clean. I questioned the thoroughness of testing and have never felt comfortable with all of what has been — and should be — tested for.
Fast forward to today, when we have multiplied our population and use many times more pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. We have horrible problems with methamphetamines, opioids, birth control meds and the whole suite of pharmaceuticals, which are dumped into toilets or digested by people who then use the toilets.
The variety and volume of drugs and various chemicals put through our sewage treatment facilities alarm me, and I feel that these should be piped out much farther into active sea currents that can dilute the resulting unhealthy mess. Let’s do this to help our sea life.
Summerland’s sewage outfall scenario really alarms me. That quiet coastal bay has very little natural water-flushing movement, so what gets dumped into the area stays in the area. This negatively impacts sea life, which I care so dearly about, so I find this very upsetting.
On the rare days when we do get a strong inshore current, the nasty stuff can end up at the Miramar or at beachside doorsteps along Pagaro Lane. I want us always working toward a healthy marine environment and healthy fisheries and access to them.
I believe strongly that the Summerland and Montecito outfalls should be extended out to a minimum of a mile offshore so that the diffluent is diluted by the much more aggressive oceanic currents out there. Pumping the stuff just outside of the surf zone puts swimmers, porpoise, fish and myriad other lives at risk. I feel that our governments should insist on long outfall sewage pipes and fortify them with appropriate reef units and quarry rock.
That was done in Goleta a couple of decades ago, and the result is a much-improved bay with healthy, thriving sea life. The rock-covered pipeline also adds much-needed habitat for kelp growth, homes for critters of the sea and recreational as well as educational opportunities for people.
To fix the dire problem off Summerland, the local nonprofit Fish Reef Project proposed a public-private funding arrangement, and put together a comprehensive plan, vetted by coastal engineers, a leading environmental consultant, land-use attorneys and held early stage discussions with the State Lands Commission. The Summerland Sanitary District’s small board surprisingly denied the community-driven and fully-funded plan and seemed to feel that their stubby outflow pipe met state standards and so they needn’t do anything.
I believe that decision should be re-examined and reversed. When the community wants a healthier coast and comes up with a vetted plan and funding to extend the sanitary district’s existing permitted pipeline, the district has a responsibility to embrace the opportunity to help us make the ocean healthier.
My suggestion is that we the community let the Summerland Sanitary District know that we support extending the pipeline out one mile offshore to create a healthy inshore ecosystem. The goals are safer water for our kids to swim in, for porpoise to cruise the beaches, fish and other sea critters to live in.
Let’s send them letters and emails, and maybe even make phone calls and visits. The appropriate email is email@example.com, and the phone number is 805.969.4344.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.