Monday, March 19 , 2018, 4:34 pm | Fair 63º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Local Efforts Helping Creeks Go with the Flow

Upper Las Positas Creek Restoration and Storm Water Management Project a great step forward

I’m a creek lover. It might be because I live in Rattlesnake Canyon, where the resonance of the winter-swollen creek echoing off the steep slopes creates a vibrant “sound element” in the neighborhood. Mountain dwellers can be somewhat reclusive, but we tend to meet on the bridge at the trailhead during and after big rainstorms to admire the force of the creeks-turned-rivers.

Now that our extravagant rain season (157 percent of average) is past, the rivers are again “just” creeks and will move toward dry creek beds in a few months.

In the past few years, local creeks have begun to receive the year-round attention they have long been due. Two notable city programs are the Clean Creeks Business Certification and Creek Stewardship, the topics of my next column.

The recently completed Upper Las Positas Creek Restoration and Storm Water Management Project is a great step forward in returning our creeks to safe habitat for humans and aquatic life. It is also a small step forward in healing our ocean. Not insignificantly, the project is a cooperative endeavor by organizations large and small — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Earth Island Institute, the California Coastal Conservancy, the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, Environment Now and even hotel visitors through Measure B.

According to the city, the main purpose of the project is “to detain and treat stormwater and incidental runoff at the Santa Barbara Golf Club in order to improve water quality downstream in Las Positas Creek, the Arroyo Burro Estuary and Arroyo Burro Beach.” It consists of detention basins, bioswales, pocket wetlands, erosion control, runoff diversion pipes and native plant landscaping.

Detention basins remove up to 90 percent of the suspended load (including pollutants) by letting these particulates percolate out of the standing water. Bioswales consist of channels lined by emergent plants to slow the flow, when they are in the upper reaches of the creek. In the lower reaches, where the velocity of the water is higher, bioswale elements are rocks (for aeration), gravel (for filtration) and emergent plants.

The goal is to reduce peak runoff volumes during 100-year storm events by more than 50 percent. During smaller events, i.e. up to 10-year storm events, the proposed plan will detain and treat nearly 100 percent of the runoff.

As with the environment in general, the responsibility for keeping our creeks functioning as they’re “supposed” to depends on all of us. When we don’t overload them with pollutants or heavily alter them, we allow them to provide us with clean water, fish and animal habitat, soil and sand replenishment, recreation and beauty. Since the project performed well in its first — and quite rainy — year, we can pat our collective selves on the back.

Amid the dire predictions of state budget cuts, preparations such as the Las Positas Project, as well as business and community involvement, will save Santa Barbara money in the long run. They will also prepare us better for the increased drought and flooding repercussions of climate change.

Cherish the creeks!

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations supporting sustainability. Graze her writing and excerpts from Canyon Voices: The Nature of Rattlesnake Canyon at

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