Goleta Beach Water Quality Project

Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UCSB



Project Summary

Experimental Design

Results (1)

Results (2)



Mission Statement:                                                                  

The purpose of this project is to monitor and assess potential impacts to ocean water quality subsequent to an artificial breach of Goleta Slough.


The Goleta Slough is an ecological reserve and empties near Goleta Beach in Santa Barbara County.      



Looking east, tidal influence eventually pushes the Slough mouth down the coast toward the cliff and eventually impounds it.  It is breached  for ecological reasons.


Looking West from the Goleta Beach Park to the University of California, Santa Barbara in the


Statement of Purpose: 

Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services (County EHS) has conducted weekly water quality sampling of sixteen local beaches since 1996. The purpose of the sampling is to identify increased levels of total coliform, fecal coliform and enterococcus bacteria in the ocean water. These are indicator organisms traditionally used as indicators of human waste (sewage) and are currently used for evaluating health risks. Depending on the levels of those bacteria in the samples, the County EHS issues an advisory and posts beach advisory signs or closes the beach and places closure signs at the beach entrance.  Additionally, It is the County’s policy to post the advisory signs immediately adjacent to the creek mouth and to advise the public not to swim close to the creek mouth.  Furthermore, closure signs are posted at different locations within a distance of 400 yrds on either side of the creek mouth and advise the public to avoid swimming  in the ocean within those limits.  The beach advisory and/or closure signs remain in place until bacteria level test results are below the standards. Every week, results are made public on the Environmental Health And Safety web page (Refer to the Appendices for Salt- and Fresh Water Beaches Guidance for information on the policies that the County and City follow to close beaches). 


Numerous studies have shown that the primary source of coliform bacteria at local beaches originates from creek outflow into the ocean. The water in a creek consists of winter stormwater runoff, groundwater discharge to the creek, and runoff generated from urban and agricultural water uses (termed "nuisance water"). One desire of Project Clean Water (Santa Barbara County’s clean water management program) is to evaluate the beach advisory distance used by County EHS, and to determine if a narrower advisory zone would be appropriate based on measured bacteria levels and site-specific conditions at each beach. URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde conducted a study of the lateral migration of bacteria at Arroyo Burro Beach, a popular beach located within the City of Santa Barbara.  That study noted that the county “selected the 400-yard limit based on the results of the 1996 study on the health effects on swimmers near storm drains in the Santa Monica Bay.”  


In Santa Barbara County, many of the closures stem from creek and river discharge, not storm drains, and, hence, the 400-yard limit as applied to Santa Barbara County needs to be more rigorously tested.  Furthermore, the local coastline has a south-facing orientation; the physical fluid dynamics of the local waters differ from the conditions found at Santa Monica Bay.  The Goleta Beach Water Quality study will facilitate the development of a probability model of bacterial dispersion that will specifically address the local characteristics of the area.  Currently, SCCWRP is conducting similar studies in the Los Angeles Region and is building a model for plume migration of bacteria.  These efforts could lead to the modification and improvement of the monitoring and closure plan employed at local beaches and a better understanding of dispersion subsequent to a breaching event.


Also ocean water quality in the vicinity of Goleta Slough has recreational impact implications for the University and students, since the mouth of the Slough enters the ocean adjacent to the University, and University students visit the beach here.  


This research will play a crucial role in improving our understanding of coastal bacterial contamination.  Because the study is integrated with County agencies’ work, it will undoubtedly improve the understanding of the water quality impacts due to a lagoon breach and the procedures used to determine beach advisories and closures.  This applies to not only beaches adjacent to the University and in the Santa Barbara area, but to beaches throughout California.   The research endeavors to improve the accuracy of ocean water quality monitoring and reduce the number of potentially unnecessary beach closures and the associated economic and recreational impacts.

Last updated May 31, 2001

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