After a three-year study, the Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper (SBCK) released the Goleta Stream Team 2002-05 report yesterday, pointing the finger at pollution from agriculture and urban runoff as the most severe problems currently facing the Goleta Slough watershed.
The report, funded by a grant from the Shoreline Preservation Fund, cites nutrient pollution – excessive levels of phosphate and nitrate mainly caused by fertilizers used in agricultural operations – and bacterial waste from horse corrals and pet waste as the main pollutants affecting the Goleta Slough watershed. The pollutants themselves are hazardous to many species of wildlife and can also damage the watershed’s ecosystem, making it unpleasant for humans and affecting the habitat for local wildlife, SBCK Director of Watershed Programs Leigh Ann Grabowsky said.
Grabowsky said the runoff that makes its way into creeks throughout the city enters the slough and pollutes Goleta Beach, which is often used by UCSB students.
“It’s very relevant to UCSB because you’re in the middle of the watershed,” Grabowsky said. “The watershed basically covers most of Goleta and drains into the Goleta Slough. The creeks are in UCSB’s backyard.”
Grabowsky said much of the pollution comes from agricultural operations, golf courses and residential landscaping in Goleta. She said runoff from local homes and businesses that produce pollutants often seeps directly into the watershed and eventually flows into the ocean.
The report found that the concentrations of phosphate and nitrate, which are vital plant nutrients at lower levels, have risen to dangerously high levels and are now poisoning the slough.
“It’s important to know the nutrients are naturally occurring to some degree,” Grabowsky said. “But what happens in Goleta is agriculture – we fertilize the orchards with nutrients, irrigate them, and they get in creeks and there are way too many nutrients going in.”
The excess nutrients in polluted runoff also cause unnaturally high levels of algae growth in the watershed, which depletes oxygen levels and kills fish and other creatures living in the slough’s streams. Grabowsky said bacterial pollution – generated by animal waste, faulty septic systems and general urban runoff – is less of a threat than the nutrients, but is still a danger to wildlife and the ecosystem.
Both types of pollution are especially dangerous for birds and fish, Grabowsky said. The pollution often causes temperatures in the watershed’s creeks to get unnaturally high, which makes it impossible for fish living in the creeks to survive.
As part of the report, Grabowsky said, SBCK made recommendations to local regulatory agencies about how to remedy the pollution problem. She said the main recommendation was that local officials should be stricter in their enforcement of agricultural codes and laws.
Grabowsky said another way to keep pollution out of the slough is to use building materials that act as natural filters for pollutants in areas that lead directly to creeks or the slough.
“You can put porous pavement in instead of normal asphalt or concrete,” Grabowsky said. “It lets the oil and grease from parking lots soak through the pavement instead of running off into the slough.”
ChannelKeeper’s Stream Team is also working to educate property owners and agricultural operations about how to reduce the amount of pollution they release into the local environment. She said agricultural operations can enroll in programs to learn how to keep the nutrients from fertilizer out of the creeks.