Montecito Mudslide

Montecito Mudslide Cases

Early January 9, 2018, a rainstorm occurred over the areas impacted by the Thomas Fire, as well as other areas, causing massive and unusual amounts of runoff and erosion in the Los Padres National Forest, steep mountains and slopes adjacent to and north of Montecito all due to the fact that the Thomas Fire had rendered the areas devoid of vegetation and organic surface litter, reducing the amount of water taken up by plants or absorbed into the soils, removed the forest canopy exposing the areas to the erosive power of high-intensity rainfall, and rendered the soils hydrophobic.

Defendant Montecito Water District (“MWD”) provides the drinking water and water to fire hydrants in, among other places, Montecito, California and it owns and operates a municipal water supply and storage system in the hills above Montecito, California. MWD serves approximately 4,500 customers in Montecito and Summerland, California.

Its primary distribution water main runs from reservoirs which are located along East Mountain Drive, a high elevation point in the area served by MWD. The reservoirs are large storage tanks that hold a total of 12 million gallons.

During the rainstorm of January 9, 2018 all but two of the reservoirs were full and operational. During the storm, the “highline” water main between the MWD reservoirs sustained damage and actually ruptured or broke at several locations, releasing between 8 to 9 million gallons into creeks in the area. This water was all of the stored water in the MWD system according to the general manager of the MWD.

While MWD has an automatic Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system (“SCADA”) to monitor its pipelines, shutoff valves and reservoirs, that system cannot work without electrical power. In the event of a main line break the SCADA system can be used to activate the shutoff valves in the system.

The shutoff valves are activated by SCADA in the event of a main line break to close the valves when necessary to prevent the flow of water out of the reservoirs, into the areas surrounding the line break. Unfortunately, the electric power was out during the storm on January 9, 2018 rendering the SCADA system inoperable. The system of backup generators used to power the SCADA system in the event of a power outage do not come on line automatically, and on January 9, 2018, MWD was unable to gain access to the locations of the backup generators to start up the generators.

As stated by the general manager of the MWD, “There is an automatic, SCADA, but with the power off and no way to access the site to get generators up and running, SCADA doesn’t work without power.” Without an operational SCADA system there was no way for MWD to close the shutoff valves once the “highline” water main ruptured and/or broke.

The main breaks in the line sent almost all of the MWD 9 million gallons of water flowed into and down the creeks above Montecito as a direct result of the inability of the SCADA system to function as designed or intended. Each gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, and 9 million gallons of water weighs 75,060,000 pounds or 37,530 tons.

The millions of gallons of water released from the MWD system joined with rainwater in the local creeks and streams in the hillsides above Montecito, causing erosion, devastation and destruction before its journey Montecito. As the water collected debris, trees, boulders and mud, it gained speed and came crashing down into the neighborhoods of Montecito, causing widespread devastation of homes, property and sever injury and loss of lives.

The resulting flow of mud, debris and water swept down and over homes, businesses and roadways from the Los Padres National Forest to the Pacific Ocean, destroying and damaging homes and businesses, injuring and killing residents, and rendering vast areas of Montecito uninhabitable.

Plaintiffs bring claims for, inter alia, damage to and loss of use of real and personal property, loss of income, loss of business, consequential and incidental damages, personal injury, wrongful death, emotional distress, and other harm caused by Defendants’ acts and omissions.

On January 12, 2018 we filed the first Montecito Mudslide lawsuit on behalf of homeowners shopkeepers affected by these mudslides.