Tuesday, August 14 , 2018, 8:58 pm | Fair 72º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Local Creeks Keeping Up with the Flow

The efforts of water-wise citizens deserve some of the credit

It’s a rare pleasure to hear creek water in August. Rattlesnake Creek and many others are still flowing, attracting hordes of hikers. Driving by Cachuma Lake, there’s no unsightly bathtub ring around the ample reservoir; late wildflowers such as Clarkia still decorate the valley. Is this largess solely because of our bountiful rain year, or do water-wise citizens deserve some credit?

I found one clue in the June edition of the city’s Annual Water Quality Report. Yearly water use has actually declined about 15 percent since 1988. Granted, our population has remained stable over that time period, but it’s still a good sign.

According to the report, the downward trend is expected to continue because of “stricter plumbing codes and more efficient appliances, coupled with ongoing water conservation measures and an increasingly water-wise public.”

Most of us tightened up our water-use habits purely through awareness. We’re skittish at the sound of faucet water running needlessly and adjust our irrigation systems with the seasons. We take shorter showers — or at least feel guilty when we don’t.

The city also offers quite a few incentives if you’re inclined to check them out. Rebates are available on drought-tolerant plants, irrigation system upgrades, mulch, clothes washers, and toilets. You can even request a free water checkup for your home or business.

One tip mentioned in the city report is to flush your taps for 30 seconds to minimize lead exposure if your water has been sitting for a number of days. Besides the fact that I just returned from a week out of town and neglected to do this, it reminded me that water quality is as important an issue as water quantity.

The water quality report is mailed annually to all city residents. It boils down to this bottom line: “In 2010, as in previous years, the City of Santa Barbara water met all primary state and federal standards for drinking water.” It’s worth adding that, according to the detailed chart, which makes challenging but worthwhile reading, we’re compliant by a large margin on all measures. It’s an open question whether other contaminant should be measured, but the report even lists measurements on a couple of contaminants that are unregulated. Actually finding out how much can go wrong is a little scary.

Water quality is the subject of a great summer mini-flick on the Santa Barbara Creeks website. The Creeks Division’s “Favorite Surf Spot” public service announcement recently won a Regional Emmy Award. It packs a lot of punch into a 30-second film and is very clever.

The film focuses public awareness on the creeks and how we unknowingly abuse them. Keeping contaminants out of these little treasures not only keeps the beaches safe for swimming but provides habitat for endangered species such as the Southern California steelhead trout. Although trout have been observed attempting to migrate and spawn within the lower section of Mission Creek in five of the past seven years, man-made barriers prevent them from migrating upstream to spawn. The Creeks Division is working to remove three of 12 significant man-made barriers to provide access for steelhead trout to nearly four miles of creek.

When complete, many more Santa Barbara residents will be able to overlook a creek lined in native habitat instead of unsightly concrete. It’s the only legitimate way to enjoy the sound of running water.

— 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 www.CanyonVoices.com.

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