At the same time...

we waged a battle at the Regional Water Quality Control Board to deny a continuation of a 301(h) waiver for the Goleta Sanitary District (GSD) to continue discharging wastewater that was not fully treated (a mix of primary & secondary). To make our point, Executive Director Hillary Hauser and Jeff Maassen dived on the GSD outfall in 90 ft. of water, and showed the Regional Board what the issue was.

Winning the Appeals

After winning the 301h waiver battle at the Regional Board, GSD filed an appeal to overturn the decision at the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). With attorney Vickie Clark, we traveled to Sacramento, fought the appeal – and we won! GSD was now ready to upgrade its treatment plant. HTO helped by pinning down $500,000 for GSD to add co-generation into its upgrade.

GSD New Plant Ribbon Cutting (2013)


14 years later, when GSD officials cut the ribbon on the finished, upgraded treatment plant in 2013, we were there to celebrate with them! GSD is now at the forefront of wastewater recycling, and in 2016 joined the Goleta Water District in a GOLETA POTABLE REUSE FACILITIES PLAN. HTO organized the GSD and GWD district managers to apply for a state grant to pay for half of the cost of the plan.

HTO Receives $330,000 State Grant for Sewer Outfall Study

 UCSB researcher launches computerized drifter off Montecito outfall, 2007

UCSB researcher launches computerized drifter off Montecito outfall, 2007

In 2007 Heal the Ocean received a $333,000 Proposition 50 Clean Beaches Initiative grant for a revolutionary oceanographic and microbiological ocean outfall study that tracked the travel of wastewater once it is discharged into the ocean. Called the "Shallow Ocean Wastewater Outfall Source Tracking Project" (SOWOST) the project focused on the Montecito Sanitary District outfall, which discharges into 23 feet of water, 1,100 feet off Butterfly Beach in Montecito.

During the 3-year project, UCSB oceanographers Libe Washburn and Carter Ohlmann teamed up with microbiologist Dr. Trish Holden and her laboratory staff. During the first year of the project scientists went to the outfall every week and deploy GPS drifters to computer-map where the sewage plume travels. Ocean-water samples were taken from the spots where the drifters drifted, and those samples went into Dr. Holden's lab at UCSB to for DNA and bacteria analysis. The study proved inconclusive as to the outfall impact on human health, but revealed interesting facts about travel time, near-shore currents and patterns of discharge.

See the Drifters!

 Composite picture of one year of weekly drifter travels

Composite picture of one year of weekly drifter travels

California Ocean Wastewater Discharge Report and Inventory (2010)

Meanwhile, we undertook a mammoth multi-year project to tally up all the wastewater being discharged into the ocean off the California coast. This report is a compilation of extensive research by Heal the Ocean to document the quality and extent of wastewater discharges into the Pacific Ocean – from the Oregon border to San Diego/Tijuana – in the State of California. 

Other wastewater districts came along too!

Heal the Ocean facilitated Proposition 1 grants for a number of wastewater/water districts to upgrade to recycled water. Including:

  • Santa Ynez Recycled Water Facilities Plan (draft finished February 2017)
  • Goleta Potable Reuse Facilities Plan (draft finished May 2017)

Carpinteria Sanitary District/Carpinteria Valley Water District was moving forward on its own and finalized its plan in April 2016. HTO is still working on a recycled plan for Montecito and certain areas of the Santa Ynez Valley.

HTO continues to work with wastewater districts in Santa Barbara County to plan for and upgrade to recycled water.


Climate Change and Wastewater Infastructure

 Isla Vista Cliffs during a King Tide. Photo (c) Bill Dewey

Isla Vista Cliffs during a King Tide. Photo (c) Bill Dewey

HTO has been researching the potential impacts of sea level rise (SLR) on wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). All WWTPs are built next to water for ease of disposal, whether ocean, creek, river or wetlands. Hurricane Sandy (2012) gave us a preview of the threat that climate change poses to wastewater infrastructure: 13 billion gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage was released from wastewater treatment plants in the wake of intense rain from the hurricane. HTO continues to work on adaptation issues in all climate change planning scenarios.

Inventory of Municipal Wastewater Discharges to California Coastal Waters

 Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. Photo (c) Canadastock

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. Photo (c) Canadastock

There is a significant source of water for up to 8 million Californians.

Heal the Ocean’s online interactive study, The Inventory of Municipal Wastewater Discharges to California Coastal Water Bodies, documents the 417 billion gallons of treated municipal wastewater discharged from treatment plants at fifty-seven locations directly into California coastal waters, including the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, in the 2015 calendar year. Other than serving as a disposal method, direct municipal discharges to these coastal water bodies have no clear benefit to the environment or water supplies. If an aggressive 85% of 2015 municipal wastewater effluent from coastal treatment plants were recycled and used to offset or supplement drinking water supplies, 28.61% of urban water use in California’s coastal regions could have been supplied. If California had recycled 63.3% of total municipal wastewater flows to coastal waters in 2015, it would have made its 2020 recycled water production goal. Engineering feasibility and financial considerations will be significant factors in determining the viability of using existing coastal wastewater discharges for increasing recycled water production.

To view the online interactive study, click here.

To view a printer friendly PDF, click here.