What Is that Smell?

For the last couple of weeks a dubious smell has slowly permeated throughout Montecito, gaining in pungency as the summer weeks have passed; it is particularly odiferous around the Coast Village Road and lower Montecito area. It smells suspiciously like Montecito has an operating slaughterhouse nearby (abattoir for those of a Gallic persuasion; we are, after all, celebrating Bastille Day this weekend) or worse, perhaps a serious sewage problem.

In other words, it smells bad, really bad. Most of us here at the Journal are accustomed to sniffing out other kinds of news, but after receiving a number of inquiries from readers, we finally had to ask “what on earth is that offensive odor?”

We are pleased to report that we have an answer.

According to the Montecito Sanitary district the stench doesn’t emanate from a stubborn sanitation situation; it comes from the nearby Renee Clark Bird Refuge.

Upon ascertaining that indeed the unpleasant odiferous emanation does come from the bird refuge, we contacted Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Parks Manager Santos Escobar, who confirmed it. He explained that the odor is simply a “process of eutrophication.” For those of us who aren’t PhD students in biology, eutrophication is “a process whereby water bodies, such as lakes, estuaries, or slow-moving streams, receive excess nutrients that stimulate excessive plant growth (algae, periphyton attached algae, and nuisance plants weeds). This enhanced plant growth, often called an algal bloom, reduces dissolved oxygen in the water when dead plant material decomposes and can cause other organisms to die. Nutrients can come from many sources, such as fertilizers applied to agricultural fields, golf courses, and suburban lawns; deposition of nitrogen from the atmosphere; erosion of soil containing nutrients; and sewage treatment plant discharges.” – U.S. Geological Survey

The algae boom turns the water in the Bird Refuge a slime green color and exhausts oxygen in the water, causing plants to die. When the organic material dies and decomposes, the breakdown creates a nauseating reek, like one that is found drifting up from public restroom facilities, swamplands, or port-a-potties.

The process of eutrophication can be aggravated and dramatically sped up by human pollutants such as fertilizer or sewage. Many of the added plant nutrients we use to perfect our properties eventually make their way downstream and build up in estuaries, causing the long-term process of eutrophication to be dramatically increased.

According to Mr. Escobar, Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation is currently pumping fresh water into the refuge to “flush” it out. With only six inches of rainfall this year it, the pond is in great need of fresh water.

At the risk of sounding whiney, Santa Barbara summers are important to local commerce and air quality, including its aroma, should be in working order. Businesses in and around Montecito thrive off tourism and it would be less than wise (maybe even stupid) to leave a lingering impression of a smelly city because of something that could have been prevented, or at least “cured.” Residents from as far away from the smell as Sycamore Canyon and Cold Spring have complained of the stink wafting their way. For the sanity of each employee, business owner, and customer working or shopping on Coast Village Road and beyond, our plea to city fathers is: please flush that malodorous miasma down.

If there is no negative environmental impact from flushing or blending the refuge with fresh water, it would be nice to see our local government preemptively fight the smell by adding water during low rainfall years before the June gloom disperses and eutrophication begins.

Gossip First

Just when you thought it was safe to walk the lanes and byways of Montecito without being accosted by paparazzi, we received this unsettling, though strictly unconfirmed report: A reasonably reliable source has informed MJ that Montecito’s newest celebrity resident/s is/are Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and family. Reports are that Mr. Cruise recently purchased Rob Lowe’s ocean-view estate in the Golden Quadrangle, and that Lowe and family will relocate to their beach cottage, at least for awhile. If true, this may serve as a final good-bye to the labor conflict saga that began when Mr. Lowe’s address was printed in the Santa Barbara News-Press, setting off a chain of events that culminated in an election that threatens to bring in the Teamsters Union, a mass exodus of News-Press employees, and a local boycott of the paper spearheaded by former employees. The News-Press is looking much better these days and ad revenue appears to be on an upswing, so this sale, if true, may signal the beginning of the end of the boycott and the revival of the grand old Santa Barbara newspaper. But, remember, this is just a rumor; the facts have yet to be determined.