The Andrée Clark Bird Refuge is a 32-acre lake located within a 42-acre passive City park on the east end of Santa Barbara. The lake is an historic salt marsh that was dredged in the late 1920’s to provide a year-round water feature and improve habitat for open water bird species.
Poor water quality conditions and strong odors at the lake have been problematic since the 1930’s. The accumulation of nutrients, lack of flushing storm events, and drought conditions lead to low dissolved oxygen levels, cyanobacteria blooms, poor water clarity, and strong odor events.
Various strategies to improve water quality and reduce odor events have been proposed and/or implemented during the last 80 years (dredging, chemical treatment, supplemental water, mechanical mixing, microbial augmentation, etc.). None of these techniques proved to be cost effective or successful in the long-run.
In an effort to develop a long-term solution to the deteriorating water quality, wildlife habitat, and periodic odor events, the Creeks Division started intensive water quality monitoring of the Bird Refuge in August of 2012. The same year, staff also implemented a pilot project to improve water quality by increasing circulation and dissolved oxygen within a section of the lake. Although continued water quality monitoring provided valuable data for assessing potential solutions, the pilot project did not significantly increase dissolved oxygen or improve water quality.
Restoration Project Alternatives
During 2015-16, staff evaluated a number of potential techniques for improving water quality conditions in the Bird Refuge. After reviewing existing documentation related to improving water quality and reducing odor in the Bird Refuge and meeting with several technical experts, eight alternatives were identified for preliminary consideration. Generally speaking, the alternatives employed different strategic combinations of dredging/filling, aeration, mixing, flushing, probiotics, and hydrologic restoration.
The alternatives were presented to the City’s Sustainability Council Committee on June 20, 2016. Based on estimated cost, feasibility, and potential for success in meeting the project goals, the Sustainability Council Committee recommended that staff focus on three of the alternatives for further assessment.
On September 13, 2016, the City Council concurred with the Sustainability Committee and approved a contract with Anchor QEA to perform additional technical studies and develop conceptual plans for three design alternatives. The three alternatives are described in more detail below.
Alternative 1: Make no physical changes to the Bird Refuge and allow continued deposition of nutrients and sediment.
Alternative 2: Improve flushing of the lake through modifications to the weir and weir gate at Cabrillo Boulevard and dune restoration at the mouth of the Bird Refuge on East Beach.
Alternative 3: Improve flushing of the lake by modifications to the weir and weir gate at Cabrillo Boulevard and dune restoration at the mouth of the Bird Refuge on East Beach, periodic mechanical opening of the lake mouth on East Beach, and partial dredging and filling of the lake to increase water depth, improve habitat, reduce lake surface area, and provide additional recreation features (i.e., trail around the lake).
Anchor QEA developed conceptual design plans and an evaluation report for the three design alternatives. The concept designs and report were used for project evaluation and public outreach.
During the summer of 2017, staff conducted extensive outreach to project stakeholders, neighbors, environmental groups, and the general public.A publicly-noticed site visit was held during the regularly scheduled Creeks Advisory Committee meeting on September 20, 2017. The project was also discussed at the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on September 27, 2017. Meetings were focused on explaining the habitat/water quality issues surrounding the Bird Refuge and potential restoration design alternatives, and receiving questions and comments.
Various stakeholders and members of the public provided valuable input regarding the restoration design alternatives. In general, there was support for restoring the Bird Refuge. There was no consensus or strong preference expressed for a preferred design alternative.
After conducting stakeholder outreach, staff reviewed the design alternatives and developed a hybrid alternative for restorating the Bird Refuge. The hybrid alternative includes the following: 1) removal of the weir and weir gate at Cabrillo Boulevard and replacement with an improved weir/weir gate design; 2) dune restoration at the mouth of the Bird Refuge on East Beach; 3) periodic mechanical opening of the lake mouth on East Beach; 4) construction of an upstream treatment wetland at the Municipal Tennis Courts; and 5) trail improvements around the north side of the lake.
The alternatives (including the hybrid alternative) were presented to the City’s Sustainability Council Committee on December 5, 2017. Based on cost effectiveness, permitting feasibility, stakeholder input, adaptability, and potential for success in meeting the project water quality and habitat improvement goals, the Sustainability Council Committee recommended that Council direct staff to proceed with design, and if appropriate, implementation of the hybrid alternative to restore the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge. The hybrid alternative was approved by City Council on January 30, 2018.
Staff is moving forward restoration efforts, beginning with final design and permitting of the hybrid alternative. Due to the complexity of the project approval process (including seven different permitting agencies), final design and permitting will require a minimum of 18 months to complete. Project construction could begin in the summer of 2021.