Mudslide Cleanup Creates Challenges for California Community

Utilities assess infrastructure damage as Montecito recovers from natural disaster

Mudslide Cleanup Creates Challenges for California Community

(Photo by LA Times)

Devastation was frequently used to describe the aftermath of a mudslide that ravaged Montecito, California, on Jan. 9.

But despite the horror of the initial impact — cars and homes completely swept away, roads and buildings caked in black ooze — the true difficulty of recovery for the seaside town won’t be uncovered until the surface is.

Already it has been reported that a major waterline supplying the area has been knocked out, and Highway 101, a major roadway for travel to and from Montecito, is shut down with no firm timetable for a reopening in sight.

One of the town’s largest water mains, a winding aboveground pipeline in the hills above residential areas, is out of commission after six sections washed out in the storm. Another 100-foot section drawing water from a nearby lake, which supplies 40 percent of the area’s water, washed out as well, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Ravines beneath the pipeline also took a hit, leaving 50 feet of nothing but space under some sections. Parts of the already difficult-to-access pipeline can only be reached by foot. Boil notices are in effect for the lucky few who still receive water.

"I'm hopeful that very soon we'll be providing water," said Nick Turner, general manager of the Montecito Water District, in the LA Times article. "We're not days away, but certainly sometime before the next two months."

Much of the damage assessment must wait until after clearing the shell of muck and debris.

For the first three days, workers couldn’t even begin to do that, until some of the water receded and the mud dried, according to the Los Angeles Times.

At an emergency meeting on Jan. 11, sanitary district officials designated National Plant Services as the contractor for sewer inspection and cleaning services. National Plant was unable to comment, but was busy preparing to send out crews on Wednesday.

An official relayed that National Plant was committed to dispatching any and all resources “to expeditiously clean, vacuum, CCTV, and repair the collections system as necessary,” according to the emergency meeting minutes.

The Montecito Sanitary District also set aside $10,000 of emergency funds in anticipation of collections system cleaning and repairs.

Among few positives, collections system crews have been on site and able to begin assessing and repairing lift stations. At least two treatment plant operators were on site, and reported at the sanitary district meeting that up until then, no treatment issues had been detected.

“A fleet of 4,500-gallon vacuum trucks” worked to pump mud off Highway 101 over the last week, according to USA Today.

As of Tuesday, the Ventura California Highway Patrol Twitter page indicated Highway 101 was still closed, in addition to several smaller highways and roads. It is estimated that Highway 33 will be closed for at least three weeks.

The unprecedented disaster comes following the additional ravaging of the Thomas Fire, which burned through the mountains north of Montecito only a month ago. Some residents who evacuated because of the fires were only just returning when the voluntary evacuation notice for the mudslide disaster went out.

Lack of vegetation after the fires was a major factor in the mudslides, plus ash and debris from the fire adding to the flow of mud and silt.

Power, gas and water are cut off for most of the residents who remain, while those who evacuated are unable to return for the foreseeable future.

Sources: LA Times; USA Today


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