Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson addresses participants during Santa Barbara's first Swimmable California Day
Penny Owens

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson spoke at Santa Barbara’s first celebration of the statewide “Swimmable California Day” at East Beach, where nonprofits Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and Reef & Run hosted ocean races to promote keeping area waters clean and swimmable.

After Jackson delivered a brief speech on the shoreline outside the Cabrillo Bathhouse, swimmers took part in 500-meter, 1,000-meter, and one-mile swim races. Swimmable California Day was officially established on July 3, when the California State Legislature formally adopted SCR-48 — a resolution creating the commemorative day.

Penny Owens, education and outreach coordinator for Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, said Swimmable California Day invites California residents to enjoy their local waters and work toward cleaner and safer water conditions.

“Today, we’re celebrating the importance of clean water and raising awareness that only we can all take actions ourselves, in our daily lives, to reduce our impact on the environment — in particular pollution that runs off the land and into the creeks and oceans,” Owens said.

The Santa Barbara area has faced its own battles with polluted ocean waters, as Goleta Beach just received a warning earlier this month for unsafe swimming conditions. However, Owens said such water pollution is most problematic during the rainy season, when stormwater runoff flows into waterways like creeks and sewer drains.

More than a dozen beaches throughout Santa Barbara receive weekly bacteria testings, but determining the cause of rising and dropping bacteria levels can be difficult, according to Owens. She said Southern California’s number one source of pollution is urban runoff — a mixture of oil, pesticides, and other pollutants that is partially created by everyday activities like driving and gardening.

“Oftentimes, it’s not intentional pollutions. The big impact is really the cumulative aspect of it,” Owens said.

But through events like Friday’s swim races, residents can become more aware of harsh or potentially dangerous water conditions, according to Jane Cairns, event director for Reef & Run. Cairns pointed to the poor health effects human pollution can leave on marine life.

“The more people we have see animals who are sick from the pollution, the more they’ll want to make sure our ocean has clean water,” Cairns said.

The California Coastkeeper Alliance is also hosting a photo contest for Swimmable California Day, in which participants can submit photos by sharing them via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #swimmableca, and there is a new smartphone app featuring a guide to local beaches.

Swimmable California Day was celebrated throughout the state, with chapters of the national Waterkeeper Alliance in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco all taking part.


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