Storm badly damages Montecito’s water distribution system: There is ‘very little supply’

The deadly storm that hammered southern Santa Barbara County early Tuesday damaged the Montecito Water District’s distribution system and drained its storage reservoirs, while compromising 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 million to 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.

There is also damage to the South Coast Conduit, which connects Lake Cachuma to the Goleta Valley, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.

“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.

The break is 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.

A map of the South Coast Conduit and Jameson Reservoir connections to the Montecito and Summerland area. Santa Barbara County

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 “high line” 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 is also waiting on repairs to 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.

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 is 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.”

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.

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

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNewsand @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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