We recently visited the issue of dirty air, and how we might go about protecting what we need to stay alive. Today, the focus is on dirty water.

We’d have to say that when it comes to which is more essential to life on this planet, air is the hands-down winner. Humans need to breathe to stay alive, an immutable law of human physiology.

On the other hand, we wouldn’t last much longer without clean water. Our guess is that some of the dead planets the science community has observed and identified are bereft of life because of a lack of water.

Which brings us right back home to the Central Coast, and the fact that Goleta Beach — one of the area’s most popular summer destination spots — remained closed over the Memorial Day weekend because of potentially hazardous-to-humans water contamination.

The waters at Goleta Beach have been off-limits for nearly the first half of 2018 due to heightened levels of various levels of bacteria including fecal coliform.

The potentially dangerous levels of bacterial contamination are vexing local government officials, who last week began demanding answers to why the water at Goleta Beach remains fouled, while similar beaches down the coast that were contaminated in the January rains have since cleared up.

The obvious reason for the lengthy beach closure is that much of the debris carried from the foothills to the Pacific Ocean was brought to Goleta Beach — including some of the mud that scoured Montecito and was trucked to Goleta Beach.

The state has specific criteria for water-borne bacteria, but not for fecal bacterial contaminants in soil, in part because such coliform bacteria are commonly found in all dirt. The mud trucked in tested positive for low levels of human fecal bacteria, and the enterococcus bacteria commonly deposited by seabirds.

While government officials rend their garments and pull their hair seeking answers to the water contamination problem, perhaps we should all take a deep breath, curb our indignation for a moment, and consider the fact that we — humans — are responsible for so much of human misery.

Even the animal fecal matter that fouls the water is partially our responsibility, because of pet owners who allow their animals to relieve themselves outdoors, often in watershed areas, then don’t clean up the mess and dispose of it properly.

Here is another immutable law of physics — stuff flows downstream. It doesn’t go back up the hill. Whatever is deposited at higher altitude along our coastal ranges will come down to the beaches and the ocean during periods of heavy rain.

It’s not just pet owners. Cattle and other grazing animals have an inevitable impact on downstream water quality. It simply cannot be avoided.

The county’s Public Works Department moved about 15,000 cubic yards of silt from Atascadero Creek to Goleta Beach last fall, as it does every year, which could likely account for much of the increased bacteria levels. Goleta Beach’s enterococcus levels went as high as 2,489, compared to the state health standard of 104. You can see the problem. However, the test for all coliforms for Goleta Beach was lower than the state allows, by about half. Does that make you feel better about dipping a toe into the water at Goleta Beach? We didn’t think so.

Mankind has many problems, but none that require action and solutions more than having clean air and clean water. We can foul our nest only to a certain extent, but after that, the game is definitely over.

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