National Water Quality Month was first started in 2005 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to bring awareness to the issue of water pollution, encourage appreciation of the water we do have and inspire people to take action to protect the sources of such water. While only 18 years old, the month has ties to the 1972 Clean Water Act and the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. 

To celebrate and inform ourselves, the Nexus spoke with Communications Director Laura Sanchez of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, an organization devoted to protecting our water resources: 

 Why is protecting water quality important, both globally and locally?  

Water is essential to all life on Earth. However, as populations grow and natural environments degrade worldwide, it’s becoming more challenging to ensure that people have safe and sufficient water supplies. Protecting water quality in the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds is essential to advance the health and sustainability of communities along the South Coast, aquatic habitats, the channel’s remarkable biodiversity and our local economy.

What kinds of work does SB Channelkeeper do? How is SB Channelkeeper celebrating National Water Quality Month? 

Channelkeeper’s vision is for clean beaches, healthy, flowing streams and a teeming, resilient ocean that support a thriving economy, offer healthy habitat for fish and wildlife and provide clean water and safe places for recreation for all people and for future generations. 

Channelkeeper monitors water quality in the Santa Barbara Channel and surrounding watersheds, educates the community about the importance of keeping our water clean, advocates for protective environmental policies, investigates pollution reports and enforces environmental laws.  

Our team gathers and shares water quality data to help decision-makers protect and restore local waterways and to foster wider community awareness and involvement in protecting water quality. 

On an ongoing basis, Channelkeeper staff collects plankton samples and sends them to the California State Health Department for analysis as part of our effort to monitor hazardous algal blooms in the Santa Barbara Channel. In addition, our team periodically assists with domoic acid response efforts and important research in the Santa Barbara Channel by collecting water samples and sending them to experts with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. The data and observations that we collect during these sampling events will help provide a better understanding of the geographic extent and magnitude of algae bloom events. 

Through ongoing advocacy efforts to address pollution, habitat destruction and the impacts of climate change and protect both water resources and public health, we work to improve environmental policies at the local, state and national level. Some of the issues that we are currently working on are regulating pollution from irrigated agriculture, evaluating the impacts of aquaculture project development in the Santa Barbara Channel, addressing the environmental impacts and limiting the number of cruise ships that anchor off Santa Barbara and restoring flows to the Ventura River.  

Channelkeeper spreads awareness and inspires environmental stewardship in the next generation by fostering environmental literacy related to water quality through hands-on learning experiences, promoting community appreciation for and connection with nature and by cultivating a sense of shared responsibility for our planet and empowering young people to make a difference at the local level. During the 2022-23 school year, Channelkeeper’s education programs reached 1,478 students. 

In honor of National Water Quality Month, throughout the month of August, we are working to inspire conversations around actions that our community can take to ensure that we all have access to safe, clean water for generations to come.  We’ll be sharing information on our social media and providing opportunities for community members to help keep our waterways clean.   

Channelkeeper Education and Outreach Director Penny Owens collects plantkon samples for analysis as part of our effort to monitor hazardous algal blooms in the Santa Barbara Channel.


How can students and other local community members get involved with organizations like Channelkeeper?

Join Channelkeeper’s Watershed Brigade, a community of volunteers dedicated to keeping our local watersheds and beaches clean. Watershed Brigade volunteers meet for monthly cleanups to remove trash from local trails, creeks, rivers, urban areas and beaches in an effort to help reduce pollution at its source. We regularly host beach and community cleanups in Isla Vista! 

The next cleanup is on Sept. 23, Coastal Cleanup Day, at West Beach in downtown Santa Barbara. Find more information and sign up here

Community members can also become “Marine Project Area Watch” volunteers and help Channelkeeper monitor human activity in and around our coastal marine protected areas. 

In the meantime, how can individuals help protect our water in their day to day lives?

Each of us can take action to keep local waters clean by helping keep trash out of the environment. Report possible sources of pollution and volunteer with Channelkeeper’s Watershed Brigade to remove trash from beaches, creeks, rivers and urban areas. 

If the issues discussed above are of interest to you and you would like to get more involved locally, there are many additional organizations that monitor and actively work to improve water quality, both on campus and in the larger Santa Barbara and Isla Vista communities. Groups working primarily in Santa Barbara include Heal The Ocean, which aims to improve local wastewater infrastructure, and Santa Barbara Surfrider Foundation, which works to protect all aspects of the coastal ecosystems and communities. If you are looking for opportunities closer to home, Isla Vista also has a chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which regularly completes water quality reports at major surf sites in I.V. Additionally, UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board organizes many environmental cleanups, lectures, workshops and field trips throughout the school year. 

Santa Barbara’s beaches have historically ranked highly in terms of cleanliness and water quality. The organization Heal the Bay does annual beach assessments throughout the state of California and has once again this year scored local beaches favorably: 100% of beaches in Santa Barbara County received an A for “Summer Dry Grades” and 100% received As and Bs for “Winter Dry Grades,” with lower grades for the wet season, characteristic of Santa Barbara County. 


For more information, visit these sources:

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper:

Santa Barbara Surfrider:

Isla Vista Surfrider: Instagram: @islavistasurfrider

Heal the Ocean:

Heal the Bay:

UCSB Environmental Affairs Board: Instagram: @ucsbeab


A version of this article appeared on p. 17 of the August 24 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.