Preserving Local Water Quality: Lake Los Carneros – A Living Ecosystem

Local water quality and the preservation of open space and natural areas are high priorities for the City of Goleta. Lake Los Carneros is a living ecosystem that requires freshwater inputs from winter rains to ensure a healthy aquatic environment for birds, fish, and plants.  When we experience drier winters, the lake level drops, and the water heats up faster during the summer months.  Warmer water encourages algae growth that can lead to less dissolved oxygen in the water when the algae die.  During some years, the oxygen levels drop below critical thresholds necessary for fish to survive.  This cycle of events occurred at Lake Los Carneros this year, which led to a fish die-off in July and noticeable odors in adjacent residential areas.  The dead fish, including bass and catfish, were removed and a temporary aeration system was deployed to increase dissolved oxygen levels in the lake.  No dead turtles or birds were observed during the temporary change in water quality.

Several longer-term solutions are being evaluated to improve water quality, wildlife habitat, and fishing opportunities at Lake Los Carneros.  Potential options include permanent, solar-powered aerators to reduce fish die-offs.  Other future actions may include lakebed sediment removal to reduce high nutrient levels and selective harvesting of vegetation.  Some of these solutions will require significant funding, permitting, and community support to accomplish. 

There are several significant maintenance and enhancement needs throughout Goleta’s open space, including trail improvements, fuel management to reduce the risk of wildfires, and upland habitat restoration. The wooden footbridge, which is closed due to public safety concerns, also requires significant funding to remove and replace. With so many competing needs at Lake Los Carneros and throughout the City, management actions need to be prioritized to match limited anticipated funding levels as the City plans for the future.

Priorities for funding are typically recommended annually by City departments and then approved by the Goleta City Council.  For Lake Los Carneros, a comprehensive management plan serves as the community’s guiding document to prioritize needed maintenance and improvements to critical infrastructure, habitats, and recreation amenities.

The City’s Parks and Open Space Division will be hosting a series of events during Spring 2022 to begin updating the Lake Los Carneros Management Plan.  The current plan is over 20 years old and was developed when the area was still managed by Santa Barbara County Parks.  The plan can be reviewed here.

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For more information about Lake Los Carneros, please contact George Thomson, Parks and Open Space Manager at (805) 961-7578 or