Hillary Hauser: legacy of an ocean healer

Coastal View Article

Every so often in your career or your personal life you encounter someone so dynamic and so driven that you need to either get out of the way, or get on board and enjoy the ride.

When I was hired as the general manager of the Carpinteria Sanitary District just over 20 years ago and met Hillary Hauser, the co-founder and Executive Director of Heal the Ocean, thankfully I chose the latter. Hillary recently announced her retirement from Heal the Ocean, and over the past two decades, not only did I enjoy the ride, but I’ve had the good fortune to call her my professional colleague and a great friend.

In 1998, a group of surfers at Rincon Point came together in response to ongoing occurrences of illness, rashes and sinus infections they attributed to contaminated ocean water. Aging septic systems in the beach community along the point were thought to be contributing to the problem, which led to formation of a grass roots group called CURE (Clean Up Rincon Effluent).

Beach water quality testing and regular beach closures highlighted the septic tank issues, but real solutions were elusive. Hillary Hauser, a journalist with a background in marine-related issues, entered the picture shortly thereafter to help tackle this complex problem. This was the genesis of Heal the Ocean as a non-profit environmental organization.

Hillary became an absolute champion for the Rincon Point sewer conversion project, which expanded to include Sand Point Road and Sandyland Cove and was coined the South Coast Beach Communities Septic to Sewer Project. Ultimately, this project resulted in removal of aging septic systems from over 140 homes along our coastline, in favor of a reliable public sewer system. It became the model for other projects locally and statewide.

Along the way, Hillary’s passion and dedication to the cause was undeniable. In addition to coalescing broad support for the concept, Heal the Ocean provided funding for technical engineering studies early on. Hillary’s advocacy was instrumental in obtaining California grants that paid for an Environmental Impact Report and covered nearly 25% of the overall cost of project implementation. When the project was nearly derailed by legal challenges, Heal the Ocean stepped in to defend the district, guaranteeing payment of legal fees and engaging expert counsel to ensure that the project could move forward. Hillary garnered support from regulators and legislators as we navigated a protracted, byzantine permit process.

When the Rincon Point sewer system finally came online in 2014, its success was the result of 15 years of hard work and dedication by many involved parties, not the least of which were the individual homeowners who paid the lion’s share of the project costs. But without the resolve of Hillary Hauser and Heal the Ocean, it is hard to imagine that this important project would have ever gotten over the finish line.

In the years since, Heal the Ocean has continued its focus on wastewater issues, including the promotion of water recycling and reuse locally. Hillary and her team have been stalwart supporters of the Carpinteria Advanced Purification Project (CAPP). Uniquely, Hillary’s mode of operation is to work collaboratively with wastewater agencies to inspire environmentally beneficial actions, to find grant money for key projects and to help navigate bureaucratic hurdles.

Heal the Ocean has broadened its scope to address stormwater runoff and other sources of surface water and groundwater pollution. Recent achievements in identifying and capping leaking oil wells in Summerland, and obtaining funding for these massive undertakings, will have public recreation and ecological benefits for generations to come.

At its June 18regular meeting, the Carpinteria Sanitary District Board of Directors will adopt a resolution of appreciation, recognizing the remarkable role that Hillary Hauser played in the South Coast Beach Communities Septic to Sewer Project here in Carpinteria, as well as her broader efforts to protect and enhance water quality for all of us. Congratulations to a true leader on a job well done and a legacy of water quality advocacy that will endure.