Kilian Garland

Kilian Garland surfs the Rincon Classic in 2019. Rincon Beach water quality is tested weekly by Ventura County. Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is raising money to be able to test three times a week. 

Surfers are a hardy lot. Those in the “dawn patrol” have their wetsuits on and are paddling out in chilly water at Rincon while many of us are still warm and toasty under the covers. They may not arrive at work exactly the same time I do, but they definitely have more fun before breakfast than I have on most days.

Some surfers consider an ear infection, a skin rash or even the stomach flu to be an occasional unavoidable result of a day of epic waves. Others of us do not consider such maladies to be an acceptable “cost” of going into the water. Obviously, even the most hardcore surfers would prefer to avoid these problems (which could keep them from a great day surfing tomorrow).

There are California State Water Quality Standards for the maximum levels of fecal indicator bacteria. The indicator bacteria themselves do not necessarily cause illness in people, but several studies have shown that as the levels of indicator bacteria increase, the rate of swimming-related illnesses also increases.

In the past, Santa Barbara County performed water quality testing at Rincon, but they no longer do so. Ventura County does currently sample at Rincon, but only once a week, which means the data could be outdated when you check for the “current” status.

Fortunately, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBCK) has stepped into this void. As a Carpinteria resident on the SBCK board, I am pleased to see this regional non-profit focus attention on important issues right here in Carpinteria.

SBCK has done a significant amount of testing at Rincon and at other Carpinteria beaches even more directly impacted by the debris disposal on the beach at the end of Ash Avenue both last winter and this winter. Now SBCK hopes to implement ongoing testing of the water at Rincon three days per week. This testing will provide much more timely data than the weekly data from Ventura County (and the nonexistent data from Santa Barbara County).

However, performing the collection and lab testing is not free. SBCK is currently working to raise the funds to do this work for the rest of the year by World Oceans Day, June 8. Given the benefit for our local community, I hope Carpinterians will step up and support this important work (tinyurl.com/rincon-water).

In this column, I often emphasize the value of data in making decisions, for example the importance of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in evaluating a proposed development project. But that can seem a little abstract and not directly relevant to individuals. However, here is a question that is as personally relevant as they get: “If I go into the ocean, will I get sick?” Providing timely data to answer that question is exactly what SBCK hopes to do with our help.

SBCK posts test results on their website (tinurl.com/rincon-test). That page also links to a graph of the data since early 2018. Where does this bacterium come from? The root cause is animal and human waste washing into our creeks that flow to the ocean. Faulty sewer or septic systems are a possible source, as is every bit of dog waste that is not cleaned up. Our local wildlife is pretty well-behaved, but not toilet trained, so that waste can also naturally end up in the creeks. The value of preventing waste from entering creeks is clear.

But the other part of the equation is the waste washing into our creeks. This can happen if we overwater our landscaping; the runoff takes waste down the storm drain into a creek. It also occurs during a rainstorm, but we have some level of control even then. The more we reduce storm water runoff in our urban areas, the less waste will wash into the creeks and ocean. Rain barrels, water-retaining mulch in landscaping, permeable pavement and redirecting downspouts onto landscaping instead of driveways are just a few ways to reduce runoff and retain water for a healthier landscape and groundwater aquifer.

Reducing the root cause of the bacteria is the ultimate goal. But to make progress on that goal, we need measurements of the bacteria in the ocean where we swim, surf and play. A day at the beach shouldn’t make you sick!

Mike Wondolowski is president of the Carpinteria Valley Association (CarpinteriaValleyAssociation.org), a local organization dedicated to maintaining the small beach town nature of our community. In his 25 years of involvement in planning issues, he has witnessed visionary successes, as well as decisions that were later widely regretted. When not stuck indoors, he can often be found enjoying Carpinteria’s treasures including kayaking and snorkeling along the coast, running or hiking on the bluffs, or “vacationing” as a tent camper at the State Beach.

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