The sprawling and often smelly lagoon where State Street empties onto the beach will be the focus of a major study — at the price of $600,000 — to see whether it’s technically and politically possible to restore it. The Santa Barbara City Council approved funding for the study, hatched by the city’s creeks czar Cameron Benson, in hopes of returning what is a fetid remnant of a once natural lagoon into a more vibrant and healthy state. By so doing, Benson is hoping to alleviate some of the odor problems associated with the lagoon and restore habitat suitable for such endangered species as the tidewater goby and the steelhead trout. The presence of these creatures gave rise to this project, however indirectly, because their listing by federal agencies effectively stopped the age-old practice of breaching the nearby sandbar that helped contain the brackish waters.
The area to be studied is bordered by the Mission and Laguna creeks and is in many ways a semi-industrialized no-man’s land — with a long stretch of dredging pipe draped across the sand — inhospitable to visitors. Benson suggested the stretch of pipes could be buried underground and that the gates and weirs at the mouth of Laguna Creek be modernized or replaced. All this, he said, could make the area far more open and inviting, while maintaining the essential flood-control function. For this to happen, he said, would require concurrence from seven separate government entities, including the City of Santa Barbara. The study, he said, would constitute the first formal step of what could be a very lengthy public review process.