The putrid smell emanating from Santa Barbara’s Andree Clark Bird Refuge during the past few weeks has wrinkled more than a few noses.
The source of the stench can be traced back to blooming algae in the water, which has begun to die and decay, according to city parks officials.
The city is exploring how to abate the smell, which has been a problem since the 29-acre refuge was created in 1929. Poor circulation of the water in the lake at the refuge seems to be at the heart of the problem.
The area around the refuge was originally a salt marsh, and fresh water fed into the area from Sycamore Creek. But the construction of the railroad in the 1880s cut off the creek’s access, and now the only fresh water that reaches the brackish lake is from rainwater and urban runoff.
That’s hindered water circulation, resulting in high levels of nutrients and low oxygen in the water — with pungent results.
City officials say the smell was a significant problem in 2009. That’s when water levels in the lake were low, and the city was able to add fresh water to improve water quality. That won’t work this time because levels are too high to add any more water. Now, they’re trying to aerate the water with a motorized skiff.
“We anticipate that the conditions at the Bird Refuge will improve over time,” said Jill Zachary, assistant director of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department.
Zachary said her department kicked off a five-year project that will help improve water flow in the culverts that enter the lake. Park officials also are hoping to reduce the flooding potential and improve mosquito abatement, she said.
Other long-term work to improve water quality and restore the refuge is scheduled in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.