SANTA CLARITA — About half a dozen residents from the Four Oaks community in Canyon Country, many of them complaining that they have had to put temporary outhouses in their yards or garages and have been showering in plastic tubs because of sewer problems related to high ground-water levels, are taking their case to the City Council.
Winter rains are blamed for the flooding, which for the last three months has undermined and damaged streets and sidewalks in the area. The city estimates the cost of pumping excess water from the saturated ground and repair of streets and sidewalks at about $700,000, but that doesn't address the plight of area residents, who say they are looking at sewer line repairs of $7,000 to $8,000 apiece.
Many complained that their plumbers are also telling them that they can't make repairs until the water level recedes, which they say isn't likely before September or October.
"I really feel that this is a long-term problem that needs to be addressed," Frances Boebel of Fairweather Street told the council on Tuesday. On crutches with a sprained ankle that she said she suffered after slipping on algae growing in seeping water, Boebel said she has had a rental outhouse in her garage for three weeks and has had to shower in a large bucket because the water won't go down the drain.
"I cannot afford an outhouse," fumed Brenda Della Ripa, who bought her house on Delight Street five months ago. "I need this matter taken care of," she said.
Della Ripa, who is nine months pregnant, said her condition necessitates visits to the bathroom every half an hour.
Other residents expressed concerns about refinancing or selling their homes as a result of the problem, saying they will, by law, have to disclose the problem to prospective buyers.
"Why weren't we disclosed?" asked John Watkinson, a Delight Street resident.
"We are literally taking $200,000 baths on these properties," said Margaret Wolf of Fairweather Street.
Although the rising water table has aggravated the situation, one Santa Clarita plumber said Wednesday that most of the sewer problems in the area's homes, which were built in the late 1960s, stem from the use of a rolled tar paper-type of piping called "Orangeburg" and its susceptibility to invasion by roots.
"The water table has nothing to do with the problem of the blockage of the main sewer line," said Kurt Bohmer of Kurt Bohmer Plumbing.
"The sewer system in the streets is running fine," he said.
"What's happening is the water level is making roots from trees grow much better," said Steve Harris, a plumber who works with Bohmer. "The roots are getting inside and just wiping out this Orangeburg pipe."
Bohmer said the root growth he has seen is about three times what is normal.
Harris said that when his company performed sewer line repairs at the Fairweather Street home of John Pepin, they found "a collapsed Orangeburg line due to roots."
He said Pepin could not get water to drain through his sewer, but everything is working fine now that the piping has been replaced.
Pepin said the cost of his repairs were on the order of "a couple thousand" dollars.
The city has retained a geological firm that specializes in ground water problems called B. C. I. Geonetics to study the problem and make recommendations.
According to city engineer Tony Nisich, B. C. I. determined that the Four Oaks area is situated in a low-lying region that floods when ground-water levels rise above a certain point. In the case of the nearby Langside Avenue area, the problem stems from water flowing through an adjacent river bed.
Los Angeles County Flood Control and California Department of Water Resources records indicate flooding occurred during 1973 and 1983 after heavy rains, then disappeared a few months later.
Despite temperatures that have recently neared 100 degrees, standing water can still be seen in affected areas, Nisich said.
The solution recommended by B. C. I. in the case of Four Oaks, Nisich said, is to drill two 100-foot wells from which the water would be pumped until it recedes to an acceptable level.
In the Langside area, B. C. I. recommended drilling a series of three 50-foot wells along the levee that separates the river from the street or using a system of drains or some combination of both.
Nisich said such "hazard mitigation" measures, along with the repair of damaged roads, would amount to about $700,000, more than half going to repair damaged roads.
Nisich said the city has applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement and hoped that 100% of the costs could be recouped. He warned, however, that he is not sure how much, if any, funding will come from the federal government.
City Manager George Caravalho said any FEMA monies would go toward public, and not private, improvements.
He also pointed out that the city is only responsible for repairs of sewer lines from the curb to the street, with the homeowner responsible for everything from the house to the curb.