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Sunday, December 9 , 2018, 5:19 pm | Fair 64º

 
 
 
 

Santa Monica Debris Basin Above Carpinteria Dubbed ‘Hero’ After Jan. 9 Debris Flow

Project was built after major flooding caused heavy damage to sections of Carpinteria in 1969

Earlier this month, above, the Santa Monica Debris Basin in Carpinteria still held a large quantity of boulders and other materials brought down from the Thomas Fire burn area for a strong storm on Jan. 9. County officials hope to have it completely cleared by March 15. Click to view larger
Earlier this month, above, the Santa Monica Debris Basin in Carpinteria still held a large quantity of boulders and other materials brought down from the Thomas Fire burn area for a strong storm on Jan. 9. County officials hope to have it completely cleared by March 15. (Tom Fayram photo)

Santa Barbara County officials are praising catch basins and a federal watershed project for effectively protecting the city of Carpinteria after the Jan. 9 storm that caused deadly mud and debris flows.

Ten of the 11 debris basins are “completely cleared,” Tom Fayram, the county’s deputy public works director, said Tuesday evening during a community meeting at Carpinteria High School.

He noted that removal of boulders, debris and mud orchestrated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the basins is about 80 percent complete.

The target date to finish removing storm debris in the basins is March 15, he said. 

Fayram said the massive Santa Monica Debris Basin above Carpinteria has a ways to go, but more than 50 percent of the material in the basin had been removed as of Tuesday. 

“Those aren’t just branches, those are entire trees,” Fayram said while pointing to a photograph of the basin after Jan. 9. “Santa Monica Debris Basin was the hero. It took the brunt of the storm.”

The basin filled an estimated 50 feet deep with material that would have rushed through Carpinteria to the ocean.

“The basin did spill, and it did send a lot of water and some debris downstream, but it stopped,” he said. “It was damaged, however, it did its job and was designed for this storm.”

Fayram said much of the city east of Montecito escaped more serious damage due to the Carpinteria Valley Watershed Project, a federal project by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, formerly known as the U.S. Soil Conservation Service.

The project was undertaken in the 1970s and early-1980s, and initiated after a major flooding event that occurred along Franklin and Santa Monica creeks in 1969, and caused heavy damage to sections of Carpinteria.

“We avoided some horrific damage that would have certainly happened if we didn’t have this,” Fayram said of the project.

The Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve filled with silt and materials from Santa Monica and Franklin watersheds on Jan. 9.

He noted that heavy equipment is picking debris from the marsh, saying a “little piece” is unreachable by cranes and needs to be cleaned.

“If the Carpinteria Salt Marsh can’t take the flow, then it overflows into the city,” Fayram said.

Crews with the county Flood Control District and the Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with FEMA staff and the state of California, continue their around-the-clock maintenance clearing the basins filled with enormous boulders and materials to lessen future storm risks. 

“Those rocks are the size of buses, in some cases,” Fayram said about the Gobernador Debris Basin, which is clean of storm material.

He said the county’s 11 debris basins below the Thomas Fire burn scar were “completely cleaned out… and in pristine condition” before Jan. 9.  

Six additional real-time rain gauges in the areas below the Thomas Fire and on the Channel Islands have been installed to provide enhanced monitoring, Fayram added.

The rainfall data is sent to the National Weather Service and is vital to determining the intensity of storms approaching south of the county.

At the meeting, county authorities once again explained changes to the way evacuation orders will be issued and a risk map for debris flows. 

County officials urged people to register for emergency alerts through the Aware and Prepare program

Alerts from the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management are also available through Nixle, which includes the option for Spanish-language alerts. 

Click here to visit the Santa Barbara County's new emergency page.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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