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Santa Barbara City Council Tackles Bird Refuge Smell

The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to move forward in an attempt to rid the Andree Clark Bird Refuge of its notorious smell.

The Parks and Recreation Department presented some alternatives to the city council and got approval to hire a consultant firm to study them closely.

“What we are asking the council is to authorize a contract with a professional consulting firm to look at hydrology, biology, water quality and a variety of considerations for three alternatives,” said Parks and Recreation Director, Jill Zachary.

The bird refuge was once a salt pond. Residents purchased it before 1909 before the city acquired it. In 1929, it was dredged to create the lake.

The city has grappled with the odor problem for decades and the water often turns different colors, including green, brown and even pink.

“The one that’s most popular is what we call the Pepto Pink. That one is terrible because it shows how dysfunctional the system is. It doesn’t include as much of a stink as when it goes a bright green or pea green color.”

Zachary said the first alternative is to leave the bird refuge alone.

“So the first alternative is kind of the ‘don’t do anything’. One thing the bird refuge has done is it has gotten shallower as sediment deposits. So eventually, it would probably take 100 years, but it could be dry again,” Zachary said.

The second alternative would allow a tidal influx.

“So we have more water movement between the coastal ocean and the bird refuge.
Cabrillo Boulevard, which passes essentially to the south, there is a gate there. That prevents the water from the bird refuge from getting in the outfall area,” Zachary said. “There’s a water body on the beach side. If we re-initiate that and through storm events and rain events there would be a natural ocean connection that would enable more water to enter the bird refuge.”

The third option would be more complex and involved.

“It would include a lot of the second option. But, it would also be looking at selective dredging and re-contouring and habitat improvements,” Zachary said.

All of the options are subject to review and approval by five different agencies, including local, state and federal agencies.

The Parks and Recreation Department will come back in front of the city council in Spring with some recommendations.

The money to pay for the contract with the consulting firm would come from Parks and Recreation Department’s own budget.

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