By TESS KENNY
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper – clean water advocate, champion of aquatic habitats and key environmental lobbyist. Since 1999, the nonprofit has watched over the South Coast’s waterways, giving a voice to animals and ecosystems often forgotten beneath the surface.
Celebrating 20 years of work in and along the Santa Barbara Channel, the Channelkeeper team hopes to expand their environmental impact through a series of new initiatives, events and programs set to debut throughout 2020.
“We’re looking to make a bigger splash this year, showing what an important part we play,” said Kira Redmund, Channelkeeper Executive Director. “It’s all about adding to the impact that we’ve already made.”
On March 14, Channelkeeper will kick-off this next era with their annual Blue Water Ball, a fundraising gala and silent auction at Deckers Brands’ Headquarters in Goleta. By then, the nonprofit hopes to complete an impact report applauding significant change and partners of the last 20 years.
Apart from reviewing what has been accomplished, Ms. Redmund also believes the event will propel Channelkeeper towards what’s to come.
And that’s a whole new outlook on the organization.
“We’ve run such a clean operation over the last 20 years,” said Ms. Redmund. “We haven’t focused a lot of energy on getting the word out there about our work or being well known in the community. That’s slowly changing.”
Part of that movement is the Channelkeeper Challenge, a program set to launch within the next two weeks. Designed to actively engage the community, the challenge is a social treasure hunt with nearly 40 activities.
Those who are up for the task must take a picture of themselves completing an activity and showing Channelkeeper the evidence either through email or social media. Whoever completes the most by the end of the year will receive a prize, including a $500 gift card to the top finisher.
Other projects that are still in the works include Channelkeeper Heroes. Through multimedia posts to its new website – also soon to be public – Channelkeeper will highlight those who have made a particular difference in advancing the nonprofit’s mission.
“It’s about giving back and appreciating the people that have helped us since the beginning,” said Ms. Redmund.
Founded as a program of the Environmental Defense Center, Channelkeeper has influenced countless city and countywide waterway policies, engaged over 4,500 volunteers and educated tens of thousands of adults and students.
Through science-based advocacy, field work, legal action and youth outreach, the organization confronts issues far and wide, including anything from agricultural runoff and sewage spills to offshore fracking and habitat restoration.
Some of those programs include the elimination of single use plastics, something Channelkeeper hopes to make a countywide initiative. Last year, the organization successfully lobbied the City of Santa Barbara to pass a plastic and Styrofoam straw ban. Its next step is widening the ban to Goleta, then carrying that momentum all along the South Coast.
Other projects have focused on more localized issues. Building on regular waterway cleanups, Channelkeeper is developing an adopt-a-stream program. That way, residents can take responsibility for the creeks running in their own backyards.
This will also work alongside the organization’s stream team project, where volunteers take water samples of local streams. While the initiative has brought in water quality data from more than 47 sites, that information is not easily accessible.
“All we have now is a clunky web portal,” said Ms. Redmund. “Instead, we want to launch an app where volunteers can enter information in their phones.”
Taking data collection from pen and paper to the click of a button will throw Channelkeeper into the 21st century and beyond.
At the gala, Robert E. Kennedy, Jr., who attended at Channelkeeper’s inaugural Blue Water Ball in 2000, will attest to this growth. President and founder of Water Keeper Alliance, Channelkeeper’s parent organization, Mr. Kennedy has played an integral role in widening the nonprofit’s reach since it began.
Today, Channelkeeper is just one of over 300 waterkeeper groups in the Alliance hoping to preserve and protect water worldwide.
But first and foremost, Channelkeeper’s efforts start from home.
“We want to engage the community in our work because we really need them,” said Ms. Redmund. “It’s all about getting ourselves out there and engaging more people in our work so they appreciate the resource that we work so hard to protect.”