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Just how deadly is stormwater runoff?

Taylor Schmidt
Throughout the city of Ventura, pollution is washed down to the beaches through rivers and gutters, depositing cups, bags and other various trash onto our beaches and into the oceans.

In arid California, more rain should mean a healthier environment, right? Well, not exactly. It’s true that the sunny state has had a long history of periodic droughts; any rain we receive is a blessing to the residents, many of whom rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, due to the poor infrastructure and byproducts constantly churned out by the most populated state in the country, rainwater runoff has had hugely detrimental effects on our oceans and clean water sources. In Ventura and Santa Barbara County, much of which lines the coast, residents continue to notice the impact polluted runoff has had on our fragile ecosystem.

Areas not used to large amounts of rain are much less absorbent of rainwater, which is true for many parts of California. The same goes for highly urbanized areas; water streams across impervious surfaces such as asphalt and concrete, taking with it debris and pollution, like metal, grease, soap and bacteria. After flowing through local watersheds, the runoff ultimately ends up in the ocean. 

The Ventura River Preserve holds different species of birds such as, Peregrine Falcons, Black-bellied Plovers, Caspian Terns and Buffleheads. Along with these birds, there is also a great collection of driftwood and Steelhead Trout. (Taylor Schmidt)

Emily Hunt, the Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science class teacher at Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech) stated, “The storm drain right on the corner of Day and Telephone [Road] goes directly to the Arundell Barranca and that goes directly into the Ventura Harbor.” Explaining further, she states that “there’s no grate” on the barranca, allowing trash and runoff to constantly flow into the ocean. Hunt also described how her class partners with the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental organization that works to protect the ocean. With help from the students, they test the water quality at Ventura beaches. “There’s a direct connection between the water quality at the beach and stormwater because that’s where it ends up,” Hunt said.

Sadie Lagerquist ‘26, who volunteers at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, elaborated on the effects that stormwater runoff can have on the ocean. “Usually every week there’s some sort of warning at some beaches, it’s pretty consistent,” Lagerquist said. She then went on to explain how the Sea Center houses a “moon pool” through which the ocean can directly be observed, stating that “You can literally see the color of the water change when it rains and stuff just because of all the runoff, dirt and contaminants.”

Both Hunt and Lagerquist recounted how there is an especially large surge in pollutants that end up in the ocean right after large rainstorms, including Hurricane Hilary. The unexpected tropical storm that swept across Baja, Calif., as well as the coasts and deserts of Southern California, brought a year’s worth of water to reservoirs and ended disputes over the Colorado River water source. Albeit only a temporary relief from the drought, it was still great news. However, some could argue that the hurricane inflicted great damage to the ecosystems of the affected areas as well. Besides buoying us up from the immediate terror of a drought, Hurricane Hilary also bestowed floods, mudslides and a surplus of wastewater, as well as trash that flowed straight into the ocean. 

Rainwater from the mountains of Ojai and the city of Ventura collects at the Ventura River Preserve, which is located at Surfers Point right off of California St. (Taylor Schmidt)

However, try not to lose all hope. Many initiatives and nonprofit organizations such as the previously mentioned environmental organization, Surfrider Foundation, continue to speak out and make changes in our community. Teachers like Hunt, who are a part of the Ventura River Action Network (V-RAN) program, apply local issues to not only make their class lessons more interesting, but also important and applicable to the reality we live in. Furthermore, students of today, like Lagerquist, have the potential to be our next generation of advocates and scientists. 

We all start somewhere, therefore we can begin with small steps to serve our community. During students’ time here at Foothill Tech, there are many different ways to help mitigate the effects of stormwater runoff. Lagerquist suggested not to “litter because all that trash just goes into the water.” This general rule of thumb can not only be applied to Foothill Tech, but also on a global level. Furthermore, another way we can do our part is by trying our best to minimize the amount of toxic chemicals that get washed out by rain, such as pesticides. Lastly, by raising awareness and understanding how stormwater runoff can affect our community, we command attention for action. 

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About the Contributors
Jane Kim
Jane Kim, Writer
First-year writer with a passion for music, current events and science.
Taylor Schmidt
Taylor Schmidt, Photographer
I'm a first-year photographer who enjoys spending time with my family, friends and sleeping in.

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