Contaminants lurking in the water of local creeks and oceans persuaded public officials to hold a forum on water quality Thursday night at the Santa Barbara Main Library.

The meeting addressed the work of different government agencies – on the state, county and local levels – to clean up the waters of Santa Barbara County. Different representatives discussed topics ranging from national and state water regulations to different private service organizations working to clean waters.

Santa Barbara Mayor Harriet Miller addressed the audience, emphasizing the importance of water quality.

“Cleaning our creeks and oceans is the most significant problem the area is facing. The passage of Measure B [the Clean Water and Creeks Restoration Act], as well as the creation of a citizen advisory committee will begin to resolve the problems. Our city must create a model program for cleaning our creeks,” Miller said.

Currently two federal regulatory programs, as well as a variety of state and local statutes, regulate water quality. One federal program, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, implemented in 1987, regulates water discharged from storms and mainly affects large cities. The second phase, to be implemented in March 2003, requires owners of storm sewer systems to reduce pollutants discharged by their businesses.

The second federal program, Total Maximum Daily Loads, which would regulate the total number of pollutants allowed in the water, was designed to protect damaged bodies of water.

Julia Dyer, a representative for the Regional Water Quality Control Board, is responsible for inspecting water quality.

“The TMDLs are scheduled for completion in 2006. Each TMDL is developed for a specific body of water, creating restrictions for specific pollutants,” she said.

Project Clean Water, a program the county created in 1998 to comply with state law, works to monitor water and clean local creeks and oceans throughout the county. Due to public concern over ocean water quality, the county samples from creeks to test for different contaminants, including bacteria, pesticides and metals, which have been found in county creeks and oceans. In an attempt to help the county meet government regulations, the agency is implementing various projects to improve water quality in the county.

Robert Almy, project manager for the Santa Barbara County Water Agency, said technicalities and difficulties have not satisfied everyone’s needs and the county should be spending money on non-related programs.

“It takes a lot of time to develop policy to please everyone. [Santa Barbara County] should use our resources elsewhere and deal with our water problems directly. The community is motivated to improve water conditions without the pressure from TMDLs. We can do 90percent of what needs to be done without TMDL regulations,” he said.