Santa Barbara County is working to improve the water quality of oceans and creeks by detoxifying runoff from urban areas.

Through a county organization called Project Clean Water, state funds have been allocated for piloting the cleanup of multisource urban runoff pollution. Last Thursday, Project Clean Water broke ground on a bioswale – a vegetation-covered depression that removes dissolved pollutants in runoff water before it reaches the creeks and oceans – Robert Almy, the manager of Project Clean Water, said. The bioswale will be located on the southern end of Turnpike Road near Atascadero Creek.

The first section of the water treatment facility consists of a mechanical solids separator, or Continuous Deflection Separation Unit. The CDS will remove trash, sediment, oil and grease from the existing storm drain at the creek, according to Project Clean Water.

The second section of the facility is the bioswale, where water will be diverted into a 600-foot depression that will absorb bacteria, nutrients and heavy metals, Almy said.

The county received $2.1 million of a $2.8 billion state water bond, passed June 30, 2000. The money is being used for several local coastal projects that are piloting the cleanup of nonpoint pollution, which is runoff that originates from several sources.

The grant, Almy said, funds mismanaged sites, research on treatment control and the addition of modified mechanical filters to existing storm drains. The grant will also help fund a Project Clean Water source control program, which educates the public on nonpoint pollution and enforces existing environmental laws.

Cameron Benson, Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson’s staff assistant, said funding for Project Clean Water was secured largely through Jackson’s efforts. Jackson is the chair of California’s Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.

“I am very pleased with the project and am working closely with the city to make sure funding is available to run these programs for ocean cleanup,” Jackson said.

On the south coast, 45 sites were chosen by the county and the Geosyntech consultant team for nonpoint pollution cleanup. The sites were prioritized according to the feasibility of placing detoxifying facilities at each site and on current pollution levels, Almy said.