A sudden algal bloom on Friday led to a noxious smell — the intense growth of algae creates hydrogen sulfide, which causes the unpleasant smell.
Jill Zachary, the city’s acting Parks and Recreation director, said the events are unpredictable, but the algae blooms can occur during warm, sunny conditions, and often turn the water into a bright, opaque green that she calls “pea soup.”
“Clearly, depending on which way the wind is blowing, different people are affected,” Zachary said.
It’s unknown how long the smell will last, but Zachary said previous algal blooms typically last five to seven days.
The Andree Clark Bird Refuge is a 42.4-acre open space and 29-acre lake in Santa Barbara near Cabrillo Boulevard and Highway 101.
The city has few options to intervene. In the past, it could run a boat in the water and raise the oxygen levels, but the lake is far too low to get a boat in, Zachary said.
The lake is usually about four feet deep, but now it’s about one foot deep.
“We have also put potable water in the bird refuge,” Zachary said, “but that is not possible today considering the drought conditions.”
One option the city is considering is to insert microbes in the water to consume the sediment and organic material. The city could also dredge the lake bottom to make it deeper and install aeration devices, which could cost up to $3 million.
The city is also planning a restoration of the refuge, including finding ways to get water into the wetland.
“We have no natural source of water for the bird refuge anymore,” Zachary said.
She also said there are wells that could potentially be drilled near the Zoo and the Clark Estate.
“Any long-term solution is a massive restoration projection,” Zachary said.
For now, people will have to just wait until the smell goes away.
“We anticipate, as with other odor events, they have a cycle,” Zachary said. “Eventually it stops breaking, the sulfide goes away and we go into another state.”