Creek Conscious Project

As a final project for their AP Environmental Science class at Santa Barbara High School, 28 students have begun a program called “Creek Conscious” designed to help educate the community on the health of local creeks. Community Outreach Coordinator Kelsea Peace and Director of Production Tavish Ryan sat down with us recently to discuss the goals of the project, which they say will continue well after the school year comes to an end.

Teacher José Caballero wanted his students to create a project that targeted a local environmental problem. After Stephen Dougherty from the Sierra Club spoke to the class about the endangered steelhead trout, the class decided it wanted to spread the word. To achieve this goal, the class established a Mission Statement that outlined five ways to inform local residents.

The first step was to go to local schools and inform students about creek pollution and the dwindling steelhead population. The class went to MUS and taught the sixth-graders about the project.

The second step proved more challenging: to post signs in key places to provide information and remind the public not to contaminate creeks. Peace explained that going through the county to get signage approved is a long process; they are currently in talks with neighboring residences to have their signage posted on private property instead.

A third part of the group’s mission statement is to set an example of creek care by organizing cleanups at both Mission Creek and Montecito Creek. These cleanups proved successful; during the cleanups the class found dead steelhead trout, which reiterated the importance of the project. “By keeping the creeks clean we can help maintain Santa Barbara watershed communities,” Ryan said.

Lastly, the students created an informative video that was aired at SBHS, and they are in talks with a local access channel to air it publicly. Ryan says it will eventually be on the group’s website too.

Creek Conscious members told us the easiest thing to do to help is to pick up litter and pick up after your pet. Other things you can do include participating in creek and beach cleanups, maintaining a healthy yard with few or no pesticides and fertilizers, fix your leaky car and don’t wash your car on the street; oil and soapy water flow into storm drains, which flow directly into the creeks.

Creek Conscious plans to partner with BEACH (Bringing Environmental Awareness Closer to Home), last year’s class project which focuses on beach cleanup. “Our goal is to partner with them because our creeks affect our beaches,” Ryan explained. Santa Barbara High School’s Green Academy Program provides environmental courses for students to learn about local ecological issues and encourages community involvement.

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Montecito Association Meeting

It was standing room only at this month’s Montecito Association meeting as dozens of residents came out to hear Montecito Water District General Manager Tom Mosby’s presentation to the board about water supply issues and ordinance changes. Dick Shaikewitz, MWD President, began the hour-long presentation. “We’ve reached the point where things are just terrible again,” he said. “Even though we had a massive rain in February,” he continued, “our usage of water in March set an all-time district record; we set another all-time record in April, and May was the second-heaviest May in use.”

Mosby explained that even when Jameson Lake and Lake Cachuma seemingly have plenty of water, the amount that the district is allotted is restricted. The problem lies in the water coming from the State. In 2008 the District received only 35% of its entitlement, and MWD is expected to receive just 10% in the 2009 water year. Mosby said he is trying hard to find supplemental sources. “This is serious, this is very serious for us, and as such we are taking certain actions such as the proposed rate structure to seriously encourage conservation,” he said.

Currently the District uses a flat-rate structure in which each unit of water costs a certain amount, depending on classifications, no matter how much water is used. The proposed rate structure is called an incline block rate structure; the price per unit of water will go up when usage exceeds a certain amount, for residential use. For commercial and institutional use, the rates will be based on a three-year average allotment. If the allotment is surpassed, the fee per unit will increase.

Several audience members asked questions of Mosby, voiced concern, or offered suggestions. Resident David Strauss asked, “Why doesn’t Santa Barbara service Coast Village Road since they get the taxes?” Mosby explained the infrastructure simply does not exist, plus there are certain areas in Montecito other than CVR which Santa Barbara services that act as an “overlap.” Strauss also asked the MA board to appoint a committee to look at water issues. Harry Hovey asked Mosby if building more wells is an option. Mosby answered that the board has hired geologists to look into the idea. “We just don’t have a good ground water basin here,” he opined. “We have numerous faults, it’s very steep; the water moves through the creeks and into the ocean,” he added.

The ability to pump the water that is in the basin, however, has improved.

Regarding the Miramar, Mosby said, “The thing with the Miramar is that we are going to allow expansion in use on that property. So they have to work with the means of what they were given to use in the past and that’s what we’re seriously talking to them about.” An allotment will be given to the Miramar based on previous use.

Mary Belle Snow asked what the incentive is for people in the area that are not swayed by higher water bills. Mosby explained that flow restrictors can be placed in meters to control use by residents who do not abide by ordinances. Beyond flow restrictors, there are other serious penalties. “If we’re in a water shortage condition, the penalties are pretty severe. We can send the person to jail for six months!” he said, although he added that jail time is not a punishment he would pursue.

“Right now, the status quo is not working for us, so we have to do something,” Mosby said. He announced two public forums that will take place on this issue in which concerns and suggestions from the public will be addressed. The meetings will be held on June 19 at MUS and July 10 at El Montecito Presbyterian Church, both scheduled for 6:30 pm.

“The good news is that you get seven-hundred-fifty gallons for four to five dollars, so that’s 750 times cheaper than a gallon of gasoline!” joked Bob Hazard. The last word regarding water came from Maria Herold, who eloquently stated, “I’ve found the best way is when each person takes responsibility and takes charge of the facts as they are. You don’t have to stop watering your lawns! If you water them twice a week for thirty minutes, a miracle happens: the water consumption will decrease incredibly and each person will do their part and the community will get together and reduce the water use. If we all do our part we will be able to work with what we have!” Her statements were met with applause.

In other news, Governance Committee Chair Gene Sinser reminded the board and the audience about the upcoming Governance Forum on Monday June 16 at 6 pm. It will be the first of three meetings on the subject, and will focus on the process of incorporation, California cities, and special districts. Bob Braitman, Executive Officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission and David Mullinax, Manager of Regional Public Affairs for the League of California Cities are scheduled to attend to give short presentations and field questions from the audience. Sinser reminded the public that just because the MA is hosting the town-hall style meetings, does not mean it is taking a position on the subject of self-governance. “Our part in this is to provide the forum; we are not advocating for or against. We are inviting the public to get questions answered by the experts,” he said.

Former MA board member Dana Newquist stood to announce that the Grand Marshal of this year’s Village Fourth Parade and Celebration would be Bob Meghreblian. As the former first chairman of the Montecito Planning Commission and a former Montecito Association President, he is the perfect candidate, said Diane Pannkuk, who called Village Fourth her “baby.”

The Board discussed next month’s MPC hearing on the Miramar, and tentatively scheduled their meetings. The county staff report is expected to be released July 7, and the Land Use committee will make a decision at a meeting to be held beginning at 9 am on Wednesday July 9. An ad hoc MA board meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday July 10 to hear and vote on the recommendation from the Land Use committee. The Miramar project is slated to go before the MPC the following Wednesday, July 16.

The next regular MA meeting is set for Tuesday July 8.