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The Gap Fire burns in the hills of Goleta in July, as seen from a field off Hollister Avenue across from Camino Real Shopping Center. (Brandon Roots / Roots Films photo)

Local officials are ramping up their efforts to protect the community from winter floods, as the rainy season approaches and the watershed burned by the Gap Fire threatens to erode and send debris into the waterways that flow from the foothills into the Goleta Valley.

“We’re dealing with a watershed above the city of Goleta, the Santa Barbara City Airport and the unincorporated area that could have a tremendously profound impact on our residents this winter,” Mike Harris said to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning. Harris is the county emergency operations chief who’s dealing with the burned watershed.

Various agencies are coordinating their efforts, including county public works, the fire department, law enforcement, even animal control and public health, as well as the city of Goleta’s community services department and the Santa Barbara Airport. An estimated 300,000 cubic yards of dirt, vegetation and other debris are projected to flow into the Goleta Valley from the foothills. That’s about 30,000 dump trucks worth.

The county expects to spend about $4.7 million on the project, most of which will be paid for by the U.S. Natural Resouces Conservation Services and the rest cost-shared with the California Office of Emergency Services.

Work is already under way, as the county is excavating the sediment from the creeks that flow through the Santa Barbara Airport, which lies at one of the lowest areas on the Goleta Valley floor, in a place that was once part of the Goleta Slough.

“We want to maximize that storage because we expect (those basins) to fill up perhaps a couple of times,” said Tom Fayram, county deputy public works director.

Meanwhile, debris racks are being installed at various points in several creeks to catch debris washing down the creeks during the rains.

Also up and running is an emergency sandbag station at county Fire Station 14 on Los Carneros Road. The fire station soon will offer pre-filled sandbags to residents.

While various local agencies are working in coordination with one another, the U.S. Forest Service, according to the county, has been less than cooperative with some of the pre-winter preparations laid out by the county. The Gap Fire, which started July 1, burned nearly 10,000 acres, half of which was Forest Service land.

“We really are a little bit in the dark as far as what the Forest Service is planning,” Harris said. The Forest Service reportedly has refused to participate in a joint venture with the county to hydromulch the burned areas, a process by which a mixture of mulch and a binding agent are dropped onto the ground to prevent erosion and runoff.

“We (normally) would probably receive zero runoff until we’ve received 10 inches of seasonal rainfall,” Fayram said. “Now we’ll see runoff from the very first serious rain.”

The county might have to look into a hydromulching effort separate from the Forest Service’s operations, as well as appeal to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to get cooperation on a federal level.

Meanwhile, the Goleta City Council on Tuesday evening unanimously passed a resolution proclaiming a local emergency.

Using the FEMA 100-year floodplain map, the projected areas of highest intensity flooding would be the airport, Old Town Goleta and the San Pedro Creek corridor, all areas that have flooded historically.

In adopting the resolution, the city set in motion a roughly $405,000 process that will, for one thing, quickly repair and modify culverts and waterways in the city to be able to handle the increased water, debris and sediment expected to fill the creeks and channels.

As county and city officials refine their plans and work out a cooperative system before and during the winter season, they also are trying to raise awareness within the community about the kind of situations that might happen during the winter rains. Goleta, for one, will be bombarding residents with flood-related information from its Web site, its local cable access channel, its newsletter, the city emergency information system and through community meetings.

“It’s an effort to educate the community of the threat we are facing, what’s being done … and, most importantly, what individual people in the affected areas can do to protect themselves to protect their property from flooding,” said Steve Wagner, Goleta’s community services director.

The first community meeting to discuss and prepare the community for the winter floods will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 11 at San Marcos High School. It will be hosted by Supervisors Brooks Firestone and Janet Wolf and feature speakers from the county, the city of Goleta, the local Red Cross, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies. Future meeting dates have yet to be decided.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at