Montecito Sanitary District / Heal the Ocean - Effluent Plume Tracking Study

Heal the Ocean has received a $333,000 state grant for a revolutionary oceanographic and microbiological ocean outfall study that is tracking the travel of treated wastewater once it is discharged into the ocean.

The “Shallow Ocean Wastewater Outfall Source Tracking Project” (SOWOST) is one of the first research grants of its type ever awarded by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) – and gives a huge boost to our ever-growing investigation of treated wastewater disposal methods (sewers as well as improperly placed septic systems). While we have been able to apply high technology (DNA) to the issue of septic systems, we have not – until now – had the opportunity to apply high technology to the subject of shallow treated wastewater outfalls.

The SOWOST study is focusing on the Montecito Sanitary District outfall, which discharges into 35 feet of water, 1,500 feet off Butterfly Beach in Montecito. Paid for by a Proposition 50 Clean Beaches Initiative grant, this is a two-year project that began in November 2007.

The UCSB scientists contracted for the project are oceanographers Libe Washburn and Carter Ohlmann, as well as microbiologist Dr. Trish Holden and her laboratory team. During the first year, the scientists are visiting every week, by boat, the end of the outfall, where they deploy GPS drifters to computer-map where the wastewater effluent plume travels. Ocean-water samples are then taken from the spots where the drifters drift, and those samples go into Dr. Holden’s lab at UCSB for DNA and bacteria analysis.

Click here to view the project.