Beach lovers, surfers and environmentalists armed with picket signs gathered in front of the Goleta Sanitary District (GSD) building yesterday to protest the delay of treatment facility upgrades.

A public demonstration took place outside the GSD gates on William Moffett Place in Goleta from noon to 2 p.m. The rainy weather did not deter the group of protesters, which included community members with a range of interests concerning the ocean.

Hillary Hauser, executive director of Heal the Ocean, said that in July 2002 the Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered GSD to upgrade its water treatment plant to full secondary treatment. This method is designed to remove more viruses and bacteria from the water than the current system of blended secondary treatment, which combines partially treated waste with fully treated waste. GSD was previously exempt from the Clean Water Act of 1972, which mandates that all sanitary plants upgrade to full secondary treatment, under a 301H waiver.

“There are only three of these waivers left in California – in Morro Bay, San Diego and Goleta. Heal the Ocean took up the argument to stop the waiver and get an upgrade,” Hauser said.

In January 2004, GSD filed an appeal with the State Water Resources Control Board, which it denied. GSD has 45 days to file a permit for full secondary treatment. Hauser said GSD wants to delay the action by filing a lawsuit.

“This is an unnecessary delay, and we feel they should quit wasting ratepayer money on lawyers and spend that money on getting started with the plant upgrade,” Hauser said.

Heal the Ocean board member Jeff Maassen said the sewage poses a health threat to surfers and beachgoers.

“I don’t think that most surfers at UCSB realize that the outfall is so close to Campus Point,” Maassen said. “The outfall is in 70 to 90 feet of water, only about a half mile southeast of Campus Point, with currents often headed directly toward shore.”

Bill Hooten, a commercial diver and seafood harvester, said fishermen often get blamed for the ocean’s problems.

“Everyone’s always yelling at us. We’re tired of getting blamed for everything when the city’s municipality is dumping all this junk and toxins in the ocean. As the ocean gets less and less healthy, there’s going to be less sea life for everyone, whether you like to eat it, fish it for sport or take pictures of it,” Hooten said.

Craig Everett, a member of the Santa Barbara Surf Club, said the sewage has had a negative impact on local surfers.

“There are times when they tell you, ‘Don’t even go in the water,’ usually after the rain,” Everett said. “You go out in the water and you can just smell the foul smell. You don’t want to swim or surf in that stuff. If we let it continue, it’ll just get worse and worse.”

John Fox, a representative from GSD, said the upgrade is not worth the extra cost to taxpayers. Goleta residents would pay an extra $6 to $7 per month for the upgraded water treatment. Fox said the viruses found in ocean water by Heal the Ocean are dead viruses that do not harm marine quality.

“There would be virtually no change in the quality of the ocean water. All tests have shown that. Seven dollars a month means a lot to Isla Vista students trying to pay rent,” Fox said.

Hauser said the fee increase is a small price to pay for clean water.

“Six to seven dollars more a month is the price of a six-pack of beer. People pay more for cable TV than they do for their sanitary service, even with the increase. People need to pay a little more to do something good for the ocean,” Hauser said.

Maassen said it is the GSD’s responsibility to society to follow up on the order to upgrade the treatment plant.

“Everybody pays a fee to use the sewage treatment plan, and the GSD won’t clean up the sewage. They keep trying to get out of it, but they need to be responsive to what the people want,” Maassen said.
GSD held a board meeting last night at 7 to discuss the possibility of filing a lawsuit to delay the order to upgrade. Hauser asked the board to work with Heal the Ocean rather than against it.

“We would much rather work with you and get the public funds and make this happen,” Hauser said. “It’s not going to get you kicked out of office; it’ll get you loved by the public, so let’s do it. This is about the Goleta Sanitary District acting on good faith on the orders being given to it.”

Roberta Issaris, a Goleta homeowner, said an increase in the price of sewage treatment is worth the increase in water quality.

“I would gladly pay more money. The reason to live in Goleta and pay the amount of money that I pay is to live by the ocean, and the ocean is not clean enough,” Issaris said.

Fox said Heal the Ocean overestimates the benefit of the upgrade.

“If I thought for one minute that this would make the ocean cleaner, I would be jumping on the table screaming for it. This will cost $500 per capita, and that means everybody, including children, so adults would pay double or triple that. We’re trying to be responsible as directors. We’ve never had a closure of a beach by the sanitary commission.”

In a closed session, the board decided to take no action until it receives orders from the state board.