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Santa Barbara Creeks Holding Up After Rains

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Official water quality test results aren't in yet, but at first flush, contamination levels appear minimal.

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Friday’s storms sent a deluge into local creeks, but the streams are in good shape, Santa Barbara Creeks Division manager Cameron Benson said Monday.

“We had an intense flow on Friday, which dropped off very quickly,” he said.

Among the telltale signs Benson and his crew of creek monitors look for after a significant rain event like this last one are sedimentation, chemical content and bacteria — things that tend to increase as water runs off from the more impervious concrete surfaces into the creeks.

“All three of the main creeks in Santa Barbara — Arroyo Burro, Mission and Sycamore creeks — had a fair amount of sedimentation, which was normal,” Benson said. Some of it is normal sedimentation from erosion, some is from nearby construction that gets washed into the creek.

Benson’s department won’t know what chemicals are in the water until testing is completed Wednesday. But based on tests taken after rains a few months ago, he said, there likely won’t be a significant increase in the amount of chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers since September.

“We’re seeing some movement in the right direction,” he said, noting that the community seems to have improved its practices of avoiding pesticide and fertilizer use before big rains.

Bacteria is typically present in the water in increased numbers after a storm. Benson cautioned people to stay out of the ocean for at least three days after a significant rain, and to stay at least 50 feet away from a storm drain or a creek mouth. Trash and pet waste going into a creek either directly or through a storm drain contributes to the amount of bacteria found after a heavy rain.

“People are aware that the majority of ocean pollution comes from rainstorm runoff,” Benson said, particularly from areas like the one around Mission Creek, which has a large amount of concrete that does not allow the soil to receive and filter the rain.

“Everybody is responsible for the quality of the water in the creeks,” he said. “That also means everybody can have a part in improving it.”

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