Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and Heal the Ocean are working together to protect local creeks from storms bringing harmful contaminants related to the Alisal Fire.
The fire burned nearly 17,000 acres on the Gaviota Coast and caused the loss of 13 structures. Many of the buildings were located near Refugio Creek.
According to a news release, sediment, ash and toxic materials, such as asbestos, heavy metals and dioxin from burned sites, can flow into local creeks. That can impair water quality, damage habitats and increase the risk of pollutant exposure for wildlife.
“Installing temporary stormwater management measures to prevent pollutants from being carried to the creek, the local water supply, and the ocean has been critical,” according to the news release.
In early November, local community groups discussed how to help property owners with cleanup of burned structures. Conversations on the topic resulted in the Alisal Fire Assistance Project, a community effort composed of five organizations and spearheaded by the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade.
Partners worked to assess the burned sites for pollution risk and developed a plan to help mitigate contaminated stormwater runoff.
Channelkeeper also got guidance from the Russian Riverkeeper, which played a leading role in protecting Sonoma County watersheds after the Walbridge and Glass fires in 2020.
In an early step in the project’s plan, Channelkeeper and Heal the Ocean worked to protect areas in the Refugio Creek watershed from fire-related contaminants by installing stormwater control measures around burned structures before winter rains came.
The Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade reached out to property owners to secure their approval. Then, over three days, Channelkeeper’s six-person staff dug trenches and worked to install 45 straw wattles, long tubes of compressed straw, at 10 locations to contain fire-related pollutants.
“Working closely with other community groups to protect local creeks and assist affected property owners helped hasten the immediate response needed before the recent rainstorms,” said Ted Morton, Channelkeeper’s executive director. “Without the cooperation, we would not have been able to reach as many sites.”
”Heal the Ocean raises funds for issues exactly like this,” said Hillary Hauser, executive director of Heal the Ocean. “To keep these pollutants from getting into the watershed – and ocean – is crucial, and there is not a question about helping. We’re grateful for Channelkeeper doing all the heavy lifting.”
Other partners collaborating on the Alisal Fire Assistance Project include the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council and the Community Environmental Council.
For more information, go to sbbucketbrigade.org/afap.