Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 4:42 am | Fair 56º


Local News

Santa Barbara Parks Commission Begins to Think About the Stink at Andrée Clark Bird Refuge

Officials consider options for restoration project that would enhance water quality and wildlife habitat while clearing the air of artificial lake’s foul odor

In search of a solution to the deteriorating water quality and wildlife habitat — and a sometimes eye-watering odor — at the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge on East Cabrillo Boulevard, the Santa Barbara Parks Commission has begun considering restoration options for the 42-acre open space. Click to view larger
In search of a solution to the deteriorating water quality and wildlife habitat — and a sometimes eye-watering odor — at the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge on East Cabrillo Boulevard, the Santa Barbara Parks Commission has begun considering restoration options for the 42-acre open space. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Anyone who has encountered the strong, putrid odors that periodically emanate from Santa Barbara’s Andrée Clark Bird Refuge may be pleased to know that the city is exploring a restoration project in an attempt to stanch the stench.

The centerpiece of the 42-acre open space is a 29-acre lake that once was a slough to the ocean, several hundred yards away across East Cabrillo Boulevard and East Beach.

The lake is adjacent to the Santa Barbara Zoo and the popular Cabrillo Boulevard bike path. It’s across the street from the East Beach volleyball courts, the Huguette Clark estate known as Bellosguardo and the Santa Barbara Cemetery.

The estuary was converted to an artificial lake nearly 90 years ago. Over the last decade, however, the lake’s already poor water quality and its wildlife habitat have been deteriorating.

Among the reasons are low dissolved oxygen levels, cyanobacteria blooms, poor water clarity and odor, as well as a buildup of nutrients, lack of heavy rain to stir things up and California’s chronic drought.

You can smell the results.

In search of a solution, the Santa Barbara Parks Commission received potential renovation alternatives last week. A staff report prepared by Cameron Benson, the city’s creeks restoration/clean water manager, includes three options:

» Make no changes and allow the continued deposit of nutrients and sediment. This choice adds no costs for the city.

» A $1 million project to improve flushing the lake through modifications to the weir and weir gate at East Cabrillo Boulevard near the southeast corner of the zoo, and dune restoration at the mouth of the old estuary on East Beach.

» A $7 million project to refine flushing of the lake by modifications to the weir and weir gate, dune restoration, and periodic mechanical opening of the lake mouth on East Beach. This project includes new recreation features, partial dredging and filling the lake with more water to increase the depth.

The Parks Commission did not take action on the item, which was for information purposes only.

The city’s Creeks Division Capital Fund for the potential project is approximately $1.2 million for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. Depending on the scope of the repairs, additional money for construction may be available from state coastal wetland restoration grant fund programs, according to Benson.

The next steps include presenting the alternatives to the Sustainability Council Committee and the City Council before the year ends. There will be opportunities for stakeholder and community input at a future City Council meeting.

If the council gives the go-ahead for one of the restoration options, construction is tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2020, creeks supervisor George Johnson said.

Due to the complexity of the permitting process, he added, construction could be delayed beyond 2020.

Various stakeholders and community members provided input about the restoration design alternatives at multiple meetings over the summer. A public meeting was held Sept. 20 at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center.

The meetings focused on explaining the Bird Refuge’s habitat, water conditions and restoration design.

Overall, there was support for fixing the open space, but no strong preference was expressed for a preferred way to do it.

The city has implemented various projects to improve water quality and reduce odors over the last 80 years, such as dredging, chemical treatment and supplemental water, among other alternatives.

In 2012, the Creeks Division began monitoring water quality at the site.

“The previous strategies did not include physical changes to the Bird Refuge,” Johnson noted.

He said the new alternatives would make physical changes to the area that would increase water flow between the Bird Refuge and the ocean.

Another goal of the new project is monitoring the potential for flooding in the area.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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