Last week I wrote about the mudslides in Montecito, CA, and the cleanup effort. Some of the sediment and debris removed from roads and neighborhoods—and there are many tons of it to be removed—is being placed on local beaches. The cleanup continues; Highway 101 is open again as of Sunday, January 20, 11 days after the mudslides occurred and a day ahead of Caltrans’ schedule.
Thousands of people are still under mandatory evacuation orders, though, as this local article reports. Some areas are still inaccessible. The Montecito Water District’s distribution system has been badly damaged; Laura Sanchez, editor of Water Efficiency, describes that in more detail here. As the Army Corps of Engineers and others work to clear clogged channels and culverts, the county water resources manager commented that more rainfall is actually welcome as it will show how well the drainage system is now working—although potential debris flows will continue to be a concern for a long time to come.
One local organization that seems to be at the forefront of addressing the controversy over the debris disposal is Heal the Ocean, an environmental group focused on ocean dumping, improving wastewater treatment plants, eliminating leaky septic systems, and related issues. People have apparently been using the group as a focus for their complaints.
HTO’s executive director, Hillary Hauser, discussed the situation in an editorial, from which I quoted last week, and she followed up on January 17 to address the questions in more detail. You can read her answers to some of the local residents’ specific questions and objections on HTO’s website, but I think it’s worth quoting part of Hauser’s follow-up editorial here as well. The distinction she makes between the damage caused by a one-time (we hope) emergency situation versus that caused by ongoing practices is, I think, an essential one.
She also makes a suggestion for those who are concerned about the beaches: Get out there and help (as long as you stay out of the way of the emergency crews). Many people are doing just that. “These individuals are thinking of how to help, rather than to criticize,” she writes, and adds that HTO is handing out free gloves and bags to anyone who wants to join in.
This is from her editorial:
Heal the Ocean is an environmental group, and one of our mantras is “No Ocean Dumping.” How can you support this? Objectors asked. Our answer is this:
Good environmental work focuses on fixing, upgrading and cleaning up everyday, ongoing practices that pollute. A disaster of monumental proportions, such as the Montecito Mudslide, where a community or city has to dig out of a massive, tragic situation, is not everyday practice – and it is not a time to quibble. We must realize this is not business as usual, and support our emergency workers all we can. Once we get to the other side of this monster that has hit us, we will do all we can to clean up and fix.
In talking to officials, agencies and even the contractors hired by the County to dispose mud on the west end of Goleta Beach and on Carpinteria Beach at Ash Avenue, we reasoned among ourselves the fact that our community is in a lousy situation with no good choices. We must get behind the efforts of emergency workers struggling to open the 101 freeway, clear roadways of mud…as well as look for bodies. And then we pray for those who have been hurt by this disaster.