Santa Barbara County has agreed to settle a lawsuit over claims its South Coast Recycling and Transfer Station was a source for polluted storm water runoff that eventually made its way to the Goleta Slough.
In announcing the agreement, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper said the county is committed to cleaning up the discharge from the facility just east of the sprawling county complex on Calle Real.
Runoff from the seven-acre waste and recycling facility, located at 4430 Calle Real, flows to Atascadero Creek before emptying into the Goleta Slough adjacent to Goleta Beach.
The stream was designated by California as impaired by high levels of pollutants, said Kira Redmond, executive director of Channelkeeper, a nonprofit environmental organization that monitors local creeks, waterways, beaches and marine habitats.
“The pollution leads to Goleta Beach at some point,” she said. “Anyone who uses the beach is going to benefit from this because of the reduction in pollution coming from the transfer station.”
County communications manager Gina DePinto said the county took the lawsuit’s allegations “very seriously” and worked with Channelkeeper to reach an environmental protection solution.
DePinto declined to answer questions about specific allegations listed in the suit and whether the county had agreed to pay any fines or make any financial restitution.
“Because the litigation is still pending, we cannot go into detail … at this time,” she told Noozhawk.
According to Channelkeeper, the organization filed the suit last year alleging violations of the California General Industrial Stormwater Permit and the federal Clean Water Act at the transfer facility.
Redmond said the suit was intended to ensure compliance with the industrial storm water permit, prevent the release of pollutants from the station to Atascadero Creek, and establish the standard for pollution control at all industrial buildings owned by the county.
The agreement requires the county to implement water pollution control (Best Management Practices) to protect water quality, prevent the exposure of contamination to storm water, and eliminate the discharge of polluted storm water from the facility or meet water quality standards, she said.
Redmond said sampling organized by the county and Channelkeeper discovered that the facility’s storm runoff exceeded water quality standards for pollutants, including fecal indicator bacteria, sediment and metals.
“That was a big concern,” she said. “They are essentially discharging polluted water every time it rains into the creek. We wanted to address that issue.”
After conducting a comparative analysis of data from other industrial facilities over the past five years, Channelkeeper said it found that the county’s transfer station had the greatest number of violations of the industrial storm water permit of any industrial facility on the Central Coast.
The results prompted Channelkeeper to file a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act in December 2015.
“This transfer station had the most significant violations of the industrial storm water permit in our area,” Redmond said.
The cleanup is going to help the public as well as wildlife habitat, she added.
Atascadero Creek supports the third largest total steelhead habitat (in miles) and has been ranked a priority creek for steelhead recovery in a regional analysis of 24 streams on the South Coast.
The creek forms in Atascadero Canyon just east of Highway 154, skirts Hope Ranch and then heads west to Goleta Slough along the northern edge of More Mesa.
According to Channelkeeper, $43,000 of the settlement is to go directly to the South Coast Habitat Restoration for a supplemental environmental project to restore steelhead habitat in the creek.
The South Coast Recycling and Transfer Station opened in 1967 and can process up to 550 tons of waste per day, according to the county.
The facility is a collection point for a significant portion of the nonhazardous waste generated on the South Coast, and offers both waste disposal and recycling services for residents and commercial companies.
According to the county, the recycling center processes about 200 tons of recyclable materials per day, including a mix of electrical appliances, automobile batteries, bicycles, Christmas trees, construction and demolition debris, electronic items, used tires, and wood and yard waste.