Water District Will Open Purse to Those Who Held Their Noses

Times Staff Writer

Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, Solana Beach--these are places that pride themselves on fine living and pleasant surroundings. If you’re inclined to stop and smell the flowers, there are plenty to choose from.

Just don’t smell the water.

It seems that a freak accident in early February stirred up sediment in an aging water line serving the communities. For homeowners, the result was a weeklong bout with decidedly stinky tap water.

Eager to make amends, directors of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves more than 18,000 people in the coastal communities, agreed this week to an unusual payback: The district will reimburse customers for bottled water they purchased during the smelly spell.


Up to $3 a Day

The irrigation district will pay up to $3 a day to folks who turned to the bottled water when faced with the malodorous H2O, which authorities say did not pose a health threat to consumers. Residents can ask to be reimbursed for up to 11 days of bottled water, or $33.

Jim Tolley, general manager of the district, said Wednesday that receipts for the water won’t be required, and customers can choose whether they want a check mailed out or their accounts credited.

Although district directors suspect that few customers will actually take advantage of the offer, they figure it was the least that could be done to express their regrets for the inconvenience caused during the episode.


Many residents called the district about the problem, but most were pleasant and understanding in the face of a difficult situation, Tolley said. Many of the callers said they had switched long ago to bottled water, while others declined to accept reimbursement for water they purchased because of the stench.

The problem erupted Feb. 6 when a fire hydrant in Fairbanks Ranch was knocked over in an automobile accident. The surge of water through an older, 30-inch line stirred up sediment in the pipe, causing the odor.

Flushed With Chlorine

Authorities hastened the departure of the rank-smelling water by shutting off and draining the affected line, which has been in service for nearly a quarter of a century, then flushing it with chlorine. Nonetheless, the stench stuck around the taps of many customers for about a week as the accumulated sediment worked its way out of the system.

Aside from the stinky water, the episode demonstrated some weaknesses in the district’s water system when sections are shut down for service, Tolley said. The shutdown in early February limited the district to about a fifth of its carrying capacity, he said.

“We’re fortunate that this happened at a time when the weather was cold and drizzly,” Tolley said. “Had this occurred during warm weather, we would not have been able to serve local needs.”

To correct the problem, district directors have ordered a study of possible improvements. Tolley said the district needs to consider providing “more duplication” in key sections of its network of pipe so full water delivery is guaranteed even if a stretch of pipe is closed for repair.