Santa Barbara Channelkeeper monitors and protects water quality in the Santa Barbara Channel and the creeks and rivers that feed it with the understanding that the health of our streams and ocean directly reflects the health of our community.
Last spring, when a concerned citizen reached out to the nonprofit environmental organization about a stream of water flowing from an agricultural facility, Channelkeeper sprang into action to investigate and identify the source.
The results show why Channelkeeper’s water quality monitoring programs, community engagement and efforts to clean up pollution sources are so essential.
The pollution report, submitted by Sandpiper Mobile Home Park resident Bob Franco, described a steady stream of water, or discharge, in a drainage area that flowed near his Carpinteria home and into the nearby Carpinteria Salt Marsh.
Franco worried about the children and pets that often played in the mysterious stream, and he wondered if it might be polluted.
That week, Channelkeeper’s science and policy associate, Molly Troup, visited the area where the discharge entered the conveyance to collect and test a water sample for contaminants.
The results revealed shockingly high levels of nitrate, 13 times higher than state standards for drinking water and up to 130 times greater than limits deemed protective of aquatic ecosystems.
The discharge was not only polluted, but it was one of the highest nitrate concentrations the laboratory had ever found in a local stream, so Channelkeeper submitted a formal request for inspection to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Nitrate pollution can cause harmful algal blooms that degrade water quality and harm wildlife in aquatic ecosystems. Once informed of the test results, the water agency sent the property owners an enforcement letter notifying them that they would inspect the area. The flow of water stopped soon after.
“I’ve been impressed by how well the organization protects our community by monitoring water quality in our area and by how Channelkeeper does what it takes to hold polluters accountable,” Franco said.
This is just one of many examples of Channelkeeper’s ongoing efforts to clean up sources of pollution that threaten the health of local waterways and our community.
Channelkeeper’s staff regularly collects data related to the composition, quality and availability of our water resources. They deploy data logging devices such as pressure transducers and conductivity sensors to document water quality indicators, such as nitrates, fecal indicator bacteria and ph levels, and track illicit discharges.
Over the years, Channelkeeper’s monitoring efforts have helped identify and eliminate or reduce many pollution sources, including sewer overflows in downtown Santa Barbara, agricultural runoff and industrial waste discharges.
Monitoring Provides Scientific Data
Monitoring also supports Channelkeeper’s advocacy efforts with quantitative measurements.
In the Ventura River watershed, for example, Channelkeeper staff deploys dissolved oxygen data loggers each summer to monitor the water quality effects of algae growth and diminished stream flow. This data was recently used in an evaluation of minimum flow thresholds necessary to preserve water quality for wildlife and endangered steelhead trout.
Channelkeeper’s monitoring efforts and advocacy were instrumental in shaping the Storm Water Management Program that municipalities throughout Santa Barbara County developed in order to comply with California’s municipal stormwater permit. These programs continue to guide how our communities address and reduce polluted runoff, the single largest source of water pollution in our region.
It Takes a Village
Channelkeeper also trains community members to take water quality samples, survey marine protected areas and protect local waterways. By engaging a corps of volunteers, the organization connects community members with water quality issues taking place in their back yard, while raising awareness about threats to water resources worldwide.
Since 2001, Channelkeeper’s Stream Team program has leveraged citizen science to monitor water quality at 43 local sites. In fact, regulatory agencies use the data that Stream Team volunteers collect to inform and prioritize their pollution prevention and restoration efforts.
As an example, Stream Team data have been used as evidence for waterway listings on California’s 303(d) Impaired Water Bodies List as well as to establish the total maximum daily load programs that identify pollutant thresholds for local creeks.
In addition, Channelkeeper’s MPA Watch citizen monitoring program trains volunteers to monitor compliance and to observe and collect data on human uses of coastal and marine resources in Santa Barbara County’s marine protected areas.
Volunteers use standardized protocols to collect relevant data and, to date, more than 400 volunteers have noted human activity within MPAs, informed boaters and fishermen of MPA rules and boundaries, and, when necessary, reported illegal poaching.
Educating, Inspiring Future Scientists
Channelkeeper trains students from Ventura High School’s Field Studies class in water quality monitoring at sites along the Ventura River.
Ventura High students learn practical skills, such as how to calibrate water quality meters. They set up and deploy data loggers that collect continuous dissolved oxygen and temperature data.
They are also learning about the parameters of their data collection for dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, turbidity, bacteria and flow rate insights. Following in-the-field data collection, the students analyze the data to see if the different sites meet the water quality objectives for the Ventura River.
Scientific monitoring is integral to Channelkeeper’s efforts to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds. By supporting its environmental advocacy with quantitative measurements and by connecting the community to local and global threats to water quality, scientific monitoring informs the organization’s clean water work.
It is helping Santa Barbara Channelkeeper clean up pollution hot spots, champion stronger policies that better protect local water resources, educate the community, and stop illegal discharges into the Santa Barbara Channel and its tributaries.
— Laura Sanchez is Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s communications director.