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Water Watchdogs with a Camera

ChannelKeeper Kicks Off Grassroots Video Series Aimed at Catching Polluters Red-Handed


The Internet, when wielded appropriately, can be a wonderful weapon for good. Take for example, Santa Barbara ChannelKeepers’ recently launched Watchdog Diaries video series.

One of the heavy lifters on the South Coast when it comes to water quality issues and fighting the good fight on behalf creeks, streams, rivers, and the Pacific Ocean, ChannelKeeper staffers, during a routine post-rainstorm water sampling of the Ventura River watershed last week, decided to bring a video camera along for the adventure and ended up with some rather impressive results. In just under seven minutes of rough-around-the-edges action, the video, which went up on YouTube this past Monday, paints an undeniable picture of the delicate intersection between upstream land uses — in this particular case, the use is an equestrian center and an oil facility — and downstream water quality issues.

“We’ve already received a ton of support and enthusiasm from the first episode,” explained Ben Pitterle, the star of the video and ChannelKeeper’ director of watershed programs. “People have repeatedly said that they never fully made the connection between land use and pollution until they watched it. It’s fantastic that [a video] can raise awareness that way.”

Frustrated by the inherent shortcomings of monthly email blasts and the occasional Facebook update about their day-in and day-out efforts, Pitterle and others at ChannelKeeper had been brainstorming about ways to get their message out to a broader audience while simultaneously providing a more accurate medium for showcasing the work they do. And so, with this in mind, on their way to a monitoring stop after last week’s rain, they decided to film the whole process without really knowing what the final result would be.

“We are doing stuff like this all the time.” said Pitterle. “So we thought, screw Facebook, we should just make our own mini-video documentary series. All it took was a night of home video editing and we had our first episode.” Even better, despite the lack of an official plan, the end result shows clearly, for all to see, just what happens when the rain falls and and the water flows — the run-off carrying with it all sorts of potentially terrible stuff that was never intended to make its way into a river and, ultimately, the ocean.

As for what comes next in the Watchdog series, Pitterle says episode 2 is just about complete and ready to be born on the interweb but, beyond that, plans, much like the fateful first mission, are subject to change. Explaining that they have no desire to make the videos a weekly occurrence or, more importantly, for them to become some sort of predictable anti-pollution drum beat, Pitterle called the video efforts a work in progress.

“It’s a little tricky filming watchdog work, for some obvious reasons, so we have to be really careful,” admitted Pitterle. “Plus, we don’t want it to get boring. If we just start filming ourselves doing everything, people will tune out. … We’re going to try to be selective and see where it goes.”

To subscribe to Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper’s Watchdog Diaries, click here.

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