The latest chapter in the long-running water-quality mystery of Arroyo Burro Beach is currently unfolding. In a letter sent to Santa Barbara city officials earlier this month, the state’s Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is asking that the city, among other things, develop a plan to regularly monitor the potential water-polluting impacts of the old and unlined city dump that lurks beneath Elings Park, just upstream from the chronically dirty beach. “Year after year, the Beach Bummer [a dubious annual award given to the most polluted beaches in California] gets given to Arroyo Burro, and we still don’t really know why,” explained Heal the Ocean’s Hillary Hauser this week, her watchdog outfit named by the Control Board as an officially “interested party” on the issue. “This is just great news — it is something that is long overdue,” she continued.
Technically termed a Report of Wastewater Discharge (ROWD), the request to the city is actually nothing more than a procedural step in finally enrolling Elings, the largest privately funded public park in the country, in the Control Board’s General Order for closed landfills throughout the state. According to folks from the agency, Elings has been a part of the program since it first came online in 2004, but the required ROWD, for a variety of bureaucratic reasons, has yet to be fulfilled. As per protocol, the city must submit a detailed report describing what exactly was thrown out at the old dump that closed in 1965, what measures were taken to cover it, current land use of the property, a topographical map of the region, and a proposal for how (i.e., testing wells) the city aims to ensure that the place remains in compliance with the Control Board’s various water-quality rules.
For their part, Matt Fore, Santa Barbara Environmental Services manager, explained this week that the city is “already in the process of putting [the ROWD] together,” but that the Control Board’s request to have a submittal by January 1 might be a bit ambitious. “We definitely plan to have our report and proposal to them sometime this winter,” said Fore. He added that, in response to Control Board inquiries in 2007, the city actually installed four water-sampling wells out at Elings three years ago, but after initial tests didn’t indicate much to be alarmed about, they have not been in use since. Fore speculated that these wells would likely become part of their final ROWD.