Finding Goleta Slough’s ‘Goldilocks Zone’

Water Level Balancing Act Considers Geese, Trout, Mosquitoes

<b>GROUNDED:</b> Vice President Joe Biden’s Air Force Two hit a bird when it landed at Santa Barbara Airport in 2012.
Paul Wellman (file)

On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council approved a $250,000 contract with Rincon Consultants Inc. to conduct a fish, bird, and sediment study at the mouth of the Goleta Slough. Last March, the slough became silted shut, and airport personnel noticed a large increase of thousands of Canadian geese and ducks ​— ​which are attracted to the stagnant water ​— ​outside their office windows last spring. For more than two decades, the mouth had been manually reopened by the county’s Flood Control District by tractor, but about a year ago, the National Marine Fisheries Services expressed concern that the process had negatively impacted the endangered steelhead trout, and Flood Control discontinued the job. “We are studying it from two angles,” said airport project planner Andrew Bermond, explaining that the goal is to find a “Goldilocks zone” ​— ​a water level that’s low enough to keep the ducks away but high enough for the steelhead to breed.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was no increase in bird strikes at the airport in 2013. Only one aircraft strike involved a goose (the other nine involved sparrows), but the risk is still a concern, Bermond said. In 2012, the issue became newsworthy when an airplane carrying Vice President Joe Biden hit a bird during its landing on the Santa Barbara Airport tarmac, but little actual damage occurred. A management strategy ​— ​involving several airport personnel and loud sirens ​— ​is in place in the event of a flock sighting. Nationally, the only animals that cause more damage are deer, Bermond added. The Army Corp of Engineers ​— ​responsible for issuing waterway permits ​— ​will consult with other federal agencies before plans can move forward.

On top of steelhead and goose concerns, the stagnant waters also attract mosquitoes. A trapping survey last spring collected 26,000 mosquitoes, or 20 times the 500-1,500 bugs they routinely catch, according to Vector Control District Director Kenneth Learned. A significant number were Culex tarsalis ​— ​a transmitter of West Nile virus and encephalitis ​— ​but no vector-borne diseases in the county have been traced back to the slough.


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