The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to contribute $70,000 to a large multiagency flood-protection effort in which a team of crop-dusters will dump an organic substance in the hills above Goleta that were burned by the Gap Fire, stripping them of water-absorbing vegetation.

The procedure, known as aerial hydromulching, will be staged mostly from the Santa Barbara Airport and is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning on a limited basis. By Saturday, it will be operating at full tilt, thus doubling the amount of airport traffic for the next several weeks.

“If residents aren’t annoyed by the noise, they may be annoyed just by the constant operation of aircraft,” Airport Director Karen Ramsdell said. “So we feel it’s important to get the word out so residents understand why it’s being done. … It is short-term, and it will protect lives and property in the end.” 

Although geographically located in Goleta, the Santa Barbara Airport belongs to the city of Santa Barbara. Because of the July fire that consumed about 3,500 acres in the forest and foothills north of the Goleta Valley, the airport, along with other homes and businesses in the Goleta area, is in danger of severe flooding.

The low-lying airport is near three creeks that could overflow in heavy winter rains if adequate preventive measures aren’t taken, officials said.

Ramsdell said that according to the calculations of hydrologists, a five-year rain event under the current conditions would behave more like a 10-year storm, and a 10-year event would behave like a 25-year storm. 

As such, the airport — or the city of Santa Barbara — is among several local agencies being asked to chip in for the project. The other two are the city of Goleta and Santa Barbara County.

In its entirety, the project will cost about $3.2 million, with more than 80 percent of the cost covered by both the federal Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and the state of California Office of Emergency Services.

The remaining costs are to be covered by three local agencies. The city of Goleta — like the Santa Barbara Airport — has been asked to pay $70,000. The county Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, has been asked to pony up more than $400,000. 

In the interest of finishing quickly, the loud, single-engine AT-802 Air Tractor aircraft will perform the work seven days a week, for up to 60 days, weather permitting.

Hydromulch consists of an organic mix of paper and wood fibers with water and a plant-based binder. The material will be spread over rugged terrain by the six airplanes and a large helicopter. Unlike the six crop-dusters, which will fly out of the airport, the A-64E heli tanker will operate from a temporary landing area off Paradise Road near Highway 154.

The purpose of the hydromulch, Ramsdell said, is “basically to glue the substance onto the hillside to hold the soil in place until the seeds have a chance to naturally grow.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at