Members of the public met Tuesday night with the Carpinteria Sanitary District to comment on a plan to increase water quality at a popular surf spot.

By connecting private septic tanks to the Carpinteria sewer system, environmental group Heal the Ocean (HTO) hopes to decrease the presence of dangerous bacteria at Rincon Point, a well-known surf break located on the coastal border between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The meeting began with a presentation from Donna Hebert, a consultant with the Padre Associates environmental consulting firm, which is writing the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) document. Hebert presented the draft EIR on the potential expansion, called the Rincon project.

According to the draft EIR, the proposed Rincon project would mitigate pollution by expanding the Carpinteria sewage system to include residential communities along the coast that currently rely on septic tanks. The tanks can leak and contribute to groundwater contamination that eventually seeps into the ocean.

Santa Barbara resident Sean Thompson, a member of the Surfrider Foundation and a world champion surfer from South Africa, spoke about the relationship between human fecal pollution in the ocean and septic systems placed in areas of shallow groundwater – which is the situation in Carpinteria. He emphasized the need to keep Rincon Beach and its world-renowned wave breaks safe for surfers.

“Each year I march along to the doctor along with my sons for a Hepatitis B [vaccination] injection, just to be protected while surfing at Rincon,” Thompson said. “Bringing public sewer service to this area will provide the necessary process of proper abandonment of old, failing septic tanks and ensure that Rincon, this rare national resource, is protected.”

Several other members of the public urged the sanitary district to consider the environmental impact of the construction of additional sewage systems.

Mati Waiya, the executive director of the Wishtoya Foundation and a descendent of the Chumash Indians, said the construction involved in the sewer system’s potential expansion may trespass on or uncover some archeological artifacts and that the plan should enlist the help of Chumash consultants.

“The digging that will take place – which I don’t support – we do have to consider as far as making a difference in the health of our environment,” Waiya said. “I would like to ask you to consider Native American contractors and consultants. Archeologists are fine for science but are not always in the better interest of our cultural heritage or our tradition.”

Doug White, a Rincon homeowner who has lived in Carpinteria intermittently since 1957, said he was concerned that parts of the proposed sewer system lie near creek beds where periodic flooding might cause waste spills into the ocean.

“There are certain aspects of [the draft EIR] that really are a mistake,” White said. “Many homeowners like me have questions about the real necessity and safety of the project.”

The public comments submitted at Tuesday’s meeting will be considered by the sanitary district as it draws up the final Rincon project EIR.

The Rincon project was originally initiated by Heal the Ocean, after a Rincon lagoon surface water test in 1998 detected the presence of human fecal DNA, said Hillary Hauser, HTO executive director.

In HTO’s winter 2004 newsletter, Hauser said that after the final EIR is certified, homeowners may be able to approve sewer service to their communities as early on as mid-year.