Monday, February 19 , 2018, 6:46 pm | Fair 51º


Local News

Officials Bracing For Winter Rains, Floods in Wake of Gap Fire

Municipalities had been planning for the rainy season even before the blaze was extinguished.

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A dredger is being used to dig up silt that’s collecting in the sediment basins and creeks at the Santa Barbara Airport. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

If we thought the effects of the Gap Fire last month were bad, wait until the winter rains come.

Like last year’s Zaca Fire, the burning of the forest earlier this summer is expected to lead to flood conditions this winter, as the rains run off and erode the ground burned of its vegetation. While this year’s fires took up less area, they occurred much closer to the urban limit line, putting residences in Goleta and the unincorporated eastern Goleta Valley area at a higher risk of increased flooding.

This year’s floods are what local officials are worrying about as they implement an action plan for this winter.

“We were putting plans together even before the Gap Fire completely burned out,” said Tom Fayram, county deputy public works director.

The county, the city of Goleta, the Santa Barbara Airport and the U.S. Forest Service are part of the plan.

Crews already have begun clearing debris in the creeks and burned foothills north of the Goleta Valley. They also are planning to install racks for the debris they can’t reach now but is sure to start moving when the flows increase, racks that will be cleared on a regular basis as they accumulate debris. The objective, Fayram said, is to keep the pathway for the water as wide open as possible.

“The last thing you want is a clogged stream when you have even more water,” Fayram said. “The two negatively reinforce one another.”

In the burned-out watershed, the U.S. Forest Service will be hydromulching by air — a system by which a mixture of mulch and a binding agent are dropped onto the land to decrease the rate of erosion. In the nonfederal areas that have been affected by the fire — such as agricultural lands and the airport — the county will head up the program as needed.

At the airport, dredgers are excavating loads of sediment that have accumulated in the creeks and sediment basins. Located in one of the lowest parts of the Goleta Valley, the airport is one of the most likely problem areas in case of a flood. County flood control crews are expected to be excavating the sediment on a regular basis throughout the rainy season.

In Goleta, the city is making its own preparations.

“We’ve assessed watershed burn conditions, we have assessed all our structures — bridges, creeks, critical areas,” said Steve Wagner, director of community services for Goleta. Aside from taking measures to clear debris in the stream around culverts and under bridges within the city, he said, the city will take other preventive measures.

“We’re going to have sandbag distribution centers,” he said. “We’re going to have a a series of public meetings to let the people know what to expect.”

So far, one community forum hosted by the county is scheduled at San Marcos High School on Sept. 11.

“This is a big issue,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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