Data can provide powerful insights to support environmental change. Channelkeeper regularly collects data related to the composition, quality, and availability of our water resources. Our team uses this data to measure critical threats facing our waters, to support decision-makers in their efforts to protect local waterways, and to raise community awareness and involvement in protecting our water resources. This science-based approach is one that helps us keep local waters clean and that also distinguishes us as a data-driven water quality organization.
Since 2001, Channelkeeper has leveraged citizen science to monitor water quality in local watersheds. Our flagship volunteer monitoring program, Stream Team, is one of the longest running and largest citizen water quality monitoring programs in the State. Stream Team collects baseline water quality data every month at up to 43 sites in our region. Over 1,400 community volunteers have participated in the Stream Team program, all trained to follow State approved quality control protocols. Stream Team data is uploaded to the State’s California Environmental Data Exchange Network. The data has been used as lines of evidence to support multiple listings on the State’s 303(d) Impaired Water Bodies List as well as to support development of Total Maximum Daily Load programs in several local watersheds. Regulatory agencies regularly utilize the data we collect to inform and prioritize their pollution prevention and restoration efforts.
Technological innovations in the field of water quality monitoring have enhanced Channelkeeper’s ability to monitor local watersheds. Specifically, we’ve integrated the use of deployable sensors and data loggers to collect continuous data for various applications. In the Ventura River watershed, Channelkeeper deploys dissolved oxygen data loggers each summer to monitor the water quality effects of algae growth and diminished stream flow. This data was recently used in an evaluation of minimum flow thresholds necessary to preserve water quality for endangered steelhead trout.
We also use deployable data logging devices, such as pressure transducers and conductivity sensors, to document and track illicit discharges emanating from the municipal storm drain system. In 2012, this technique helped us monitor the daily, illegal discharge of industrial brine waste into a local watershed in the City of Goleta. This discovery led to intervention of local and state authorities and the eventual elimination of the pollution source.
In the aftermath of the Plains All American oil spill in 2015, the existence of natural oil seeps that regularly oil beaches off the Santa Barbara coastline led to uncertainty regarding the source of oil on fouled beaches. We launched our Tar Ball Monitoring Program to establish a quantitative baseline dataset of natural oil seep fouling that resource agencies could utilize in the future when evaluating both whether to mobilize clean-up efforts and what appropriate clean-up endpoints should be. To develop this baseline, we conduct quarterly surveys of 14 local beaches along the coastline and document the extent, magnitude, and frequency of natural oiling.
Channelkeeper also helps other agencies gather data. Aboard the RV-Channelkeeper, our 31-foot research vessel, our team has assisted the Department of Public Health with biotoxin monitoring, the Department of Fish and Wildlife with Marine Protected Area compliance monitoring, and University of California Santa Barbara researchers with everything from ocean acidification monitoring, biological surveys, and e-DNA sampling of eelgrass beds.
Data collection and scientific research is integral to Channelkeeper’s efforts to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds. This has helped us successfully champion stronger policies that better protect our water resources, clean up pollution hot spots, educate our community, and stop illegal discharges into the Santa Barbara Channel and its tributaries. It’s allowed us to better serve our community by supporting our environmental advocacy with quantitative measurements and has informed every aspect of our clean water work.