The Shoreline Preservation Fund recently granted CalPIRG and I.V. Surfrider Foundation $500 to test Goleta Slough waters for toxins and bacteria that wash into the ocean. The combined effort, known as the Blue Water Task Force, has been testing three separate sites surrounding campus four times a week for traces of bacteria since mid-March.
The team is searching for E. coli, Enterococcus and coliform, indicators of fecal contamination that can cause serious illness in both human and sea life. Santa Barbara County tests sites near Campus Point for similar contamination, but does not test the water directly adjacent to campus, junior biology major Nikkola Pass, CalPIRG Water Watch program coordinator, said.
“We’re out here because the county doesn’t do adequate testing. The county tests at Goleta Beach and Sands Beach but skips UCSB, a major source of water pollutants,” Pass said. “They don’t even publish their results for two to three days after they’ve tested. We don’t even know if there’s crap in the water for a few days after we’ve been in it.”
Symptoms of the tested bacterium include bloody diarrhea, urinary tract infections, fatigue and abdominal cramps. Students often complain about ear infections and upset stomachs after surfing or swimming on the beaches around campus, Pass said.
“People come up with fungal infections when they have cuts,” she said. “People will see floating shit in the water – a chunk of poo. The waste water treatment plant will clean out a lot of that shit but they still pollute at a level that is safe according to the government and they’re not the only source of bacteria in the area.”
Several of the members of the Blue Water Task Force are surfers and concerned about the quality of the water they swim in. Understanding the sources of the contamination is a critical step in keeping the environment healthy, said junior geology major Mike Sherwood, who coordinates the Blue Water Task Force.
“A lot of people at Surfrider have been worried and curious about what’s going on with the water. A lot of people are in the water five to seven times a week and want to know what’s going into our bodies and why people are getting sick,” he said. “By testing and figuring out the sources of the pollution we can find out what’s up with the water and what we can do to make it cleaner.”
The Blue Water Task Force is compiling a catalog of data for reference during rainier seasons when water pollution increases, said junior cellular microbiology major Lisa Kinney, a member of the Blue Water Task Force. Sands Beach has produced the cleanest results and the most polluted samples have come from the lagoon. The samples form a base of data for comparing future results, so that abnormalities can be quickly identified, Kinney said.
“When something irregular happens it’ll be off the charts,” she said. “Since there hasn’t been very much rain it’s been pretty clean and because of that we know the problem is runoff from the Goleta Slough.”
Several creeks and streams flow into the slough from the Goleta area and the pollutants in the water dump straight into the ocean, Sherwood said.
“The bacteria is coming from the landfills and creeks. The gulls eat stuff at the landfill and go to the ocean and shit it out,” Vice Chancellor for Research Jim Case said. “[The bacteria] can certainly hurt us. I don’t know anyone who’s definitely gotten sick from it – it’s hard to prove – but there are frequent samplings that indicate pollution.”
According to Santa Barbara County’s water test results from a sample taken April 29, no beaches in the county are closed or exceeding state health standards for any of the tested indicators. The Blue Water Task Force will conduct tests along the Goleta Slough from June through September.