Santa Barbara County Flood Control District maintains a network of debris basins that help reduce the risk of flooding during rain events. These debris basins fill with mud, silt, and rock and require ongoing clearing to function properly.
Historically, the County disposed of excess material cleared from the basins in upland locations. However, following the 2018 Montecito debris flows, it began dumping this material in the surf zone at Carpinteria and Goleta Beaches under emergency permits. The use of emergency permitting means that the County does not have to perform as comprehensive a program to monitor, avoid, and mitigate potential ecological effects as may typically be required for these activities.
In January, following several major storms, the County began clearing the debris basins and using heavy equipment to dump the mud and debris material onto Carpinteria and Goleta Beaches utilizing similar emergency permits to the ones received in the aftermath of the 2018 Montecito debris flows.
These disposal activities impair water quality and impact fish, wildlife, and other biological resources by increasing turbidity and siltation in nearshore waters and by potentially introducing toxic chemicals like ammonia nitrogen, which is a natural product of decomposition in soils. The intensity and prolonged nature of consecutive daily dumping activity are producing negative impacts.
Channelkeeper finds the continued reliance on emergency permitting for debris basin clearing a significant concern. Moreover, the likely future need for basin clearing after storms makes it important for the County to find a better solution, one that minimizes damage to important habitats and waters, such as beaches and intertidal ecosystems.
With public safety and ecosystem protections in mind, Channelkeeper is advocating for an effective, long-term solution and calling on County leaders to evaluate and determine an alternative disposal method.