For decades, Santa Barbara, California, has been nationally recognized as a city that emphasizes environmental conservation and takes measures to protect its local ecosystem. From its yearly festival celebrating Earth Day to the sustainability education programs developed at UCSB, Santa Barbara continues to look for ways to promote a healthier planet. To build a greener future for itself, the city has committed to the protection of its water sources through the following conservation practices.
1. Stormwater Management
Of all pollutants that affect the health of Santa Barbara’s coastal waters, runoff from city streets inflicts the most damage. After running over the surfaces of roofs, streets, lawns, and vehicles, stormwater picks up contaminants like oil, metals, pesticides, and pet waste before entering storm drains that channel it into the Pacific Ocean via local tributaries.
In order to reduce the pollution caused by urban runoff, the city of Santa Barbara implemented stormwater programs to improve and manage the quality of water that flows into the Santa Barbara Channel, the part of the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of the city. In addition to establishing operational guidelines for businesses through its Stormwater Management Program, Santa Barbara’s local government has also installed catch basin debris screens onto storm drain openings throughout the city. These metal screens are designed to filter trash from runoff before it can pass into the drains.
Additional urban runoff initiatives include the Hope and Haley Storm Drain Diversions, which were constructed in those areas of Santa Barbara identified as high risk for indicator bacteria. Instead of diverting to local streams, these two drains are directed toward a water treatment facility, where runoff during the dry season is treated before it is recirculated into local creeks.
2. Water Quality Monitoring
The city’s commitment to clean water includes not only stormwater management initiatives, but also monitoring programs to ensure its policies are having the desired effect. Tracking and recording water quality data is important because it allows a community to see the results of its various regulations and programs, and determine which areas require improvement.
Santa Barbara takes water protection seriously and sets itself apart through organizations like the nonprofit Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBCK), a group that focuses on the monitoring and identification of pollutants flowing into the Santa Barbara Channel. Volunteers with SBCK are taught how to obtain water samples from local streams and creeks and test elements such as temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen, as well as record visual data like algae coverage, clarity, and trash buildup.
Local government benefits from the work of groups like SBCK because it often uses their findings to inform the creation of regulations and initiatives that protect the environment. Santa Barbara County’s Environmental Health Services department also performs weekly testing on local beaches and records the results into a database in order to monitor water quality trends. Additionally, samples collected by the city of Santa Barbara’s water quality monitoring teams are sent to researchers at UCSB, where DNA-based tests are performed in order to determine the sources of microbial contamination.
3. Pollution Prevention
The most effective way to ensure good water quality is pollution prevention, and Santa Barbara does its best to put measures into place to stop pollution before it happens. This is done, in part, through the enforcement of state and county laws that protect local water sources and wildlife. Relevant laws established by the State of California make it unlawful for anyone to deposit waste within 150 feet of a body of water, or to dump sewage, trash, liquids, or other organic matter into lakes, streams, or the ocean.
Locally, Santa Barbara can impose fines and criminal charges on people who discard solid or liquid waste onto city streets, where they may eventually reach a storm drain that connects to a water source. The county also encourages residents to report cases of water pollution or suspected contamination problems via a hotline at 1-877-OUR-OCEAN.
In addition to the development of clean water laws, Santa Barbara also requires local construction projects to be designed and managed in a way that prevents water pollution during and after construction. The city provides contractors with a technical guide as well as control plan templates on the County of Santa Barbara’s Project Clean Water website.
4. Community Involvement
Many residents of Santa Barbara show their commitment to the environment by making eco-friendly choices in their everyday lives, such as bicycling for transportation and eating locally grown foods. The city also encourages water quality awareness in the community through public education campaigns and other initiatives.
Santa Barbara’s youngest community members learn about the importance of water conservation from an early age by attending field trips to the local Watershed Resource Center and the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant. Additionally, a yearly video contest for high school students is held in Santa Barbara County that awards cash prizes for students who produce the most creative and informative videos on water conservation in the area.
The city is also among California’s most successful in exceeding water conservation goals set by the state government in an effort to combat drought conditions. The community’s receptiveness to planting drought-tolerant landscaping, installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, and receiving free water checkups from utility agencies has helped the city achieve a 22 percent decrease in water usage over the past two years, making it a state-wide leader in reducing water use.