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Santa Barbara’s bird refuge water level drops, revealing another sign of the ongoing drought

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - You only need to take a walk or a drive by the Andree Clark Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara on Cabrillo Boulevard to see how tiny the rainfall-runoff has been this year. The shores are longer and deeper than normal. The undergrowth smells. The appearance is dismal.

"I think it's pretty bad, yea," said Bela Taron on a walk with her dog Teddy.

Fortunately, it is not a main water source for the city. That is a combination of several inputs including water from Cachuma Lake, underground wells and the desalination plant in use regularly along with conservation efforts and reclaimed water.

It is fed by a natural flow of water from the hills to the ocean. When it does not have enough fresh water coming in, the level naturally drops and the scenic site is usually a concern to passersby and with its odor, a pain for those dining or working out in the area.

Sometimes the smell is strong enough to impact drivers going by on Highway 101.

A walker Karen Heimberg carrying a toddler, Brooks, said, "this feels like the duck poop. That is what it smells like to me, the duck poop because it is drying and in the sun." She said it was,"a different smell. Maybe it needs rain."

The issue has been studied by the Parks and Recreation Department for years. Having a circulation system is one solution or an injection of more water.

When the water levels are high, in big rain years, it will go out through a special gate into the ocean at East Beach.

During drought years, such as 2015 the issues were the same involving hydrology, biology, water quality and an odor.

The bird refuge was once a salt pond. 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.

Some of the steps to change the look, depth and overall character of the bird refuge could involve up to five different agencies and a financial cost to the city that's unknown at this time.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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