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Montecito Water District named as defendant in lawsuit stemming from Thomas Fire, debris flow

Posted at 3:47 PM, Mar 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-29 21:58:20-04

More than 100 people are named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this week in Santa Barbara County Superior Court that alleges the Montecito Water District (MWD) is partially responsible for the deadly debris flow that killed more than 20 people in Montecito last January and devastated the town.

The lawsuit says the MWD, for nearly 100 years, has owned, operated and maintained a water supply storage system in the hills that are above residential neighborhoods in Montecito.

The lawsuit alleges the water district prior to the mudslide never made any efforts to protect the 14-inch highline or make sure it could resist impacts from boulders and rocks during winter storms.

“‘On January 9, 2018, MWD’s 14-inch highline ruptured at a majority of creek crossings, and then all of the reservoirs emptied,’ according to Nick Turner, MWD’s general manager,” the lawsuit states.

“Because MWD did not activate the shut-off valves in its water delivery system, water from its (10) reservoirs rushed out of the highline through ruptures of the pipeline into the local creeks, causing an estimated 8 to 9 million gallons of water in those tanks to drain out ‘with the majority of that going down the creeks,'” which the lawsuit attributes to Turner.

The lawsuit goes on to say the “millions of gallons of water released from the MWD systems joined with rainwater in the local creeks and streams in the hillsides above Montecito, causing erosion, devastation and destruction before its journey into Montecito.”

The lawsuit is asking for a jury trial.

Twenty-one people were killed in the mudslide and two others were never found.

Many family members of the victims are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Others named include those who suffered business losses, evacuation or relocation cots or other damages stemming from the mudslide.

The mudslide happened shortly after the Thomas Fire burned from Ventura County through the hills above Montecito.

Earlier this month, investigators said the fire was sparked by power lines operated by Southern California Edison coming into contact during high winds.