The City of Santa Barbara wants to take over management of the Goleta Slough mouth, which has been left mostly to nature’s whim since the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District discontinued oversight.

The slough mouth has been silted over since last March, and no agency has the authority to manage water levels.

The county managed an open channel to the ocean for 30 years, but when the National Marine Fisheries Service required extra studies to renew the permits, the county dropped the slough mouth from its permit process.

The nearby Santa Barbara Airport is stepping up, in partnership with the county, “because we’re the ones who’ve found the most difficulty with the mouth being unmanaged,” said Andrew Bermond, a project planner with the airport. 

There have been two emergency permits to drain the slough since the previous permits expired, but higher, stagnant water has been inviting many more water fowl and mosquitoes.

The birds are interfering with runways at the Santa Barbara Airport, and the mosquitoes are becoming a nuisance and public health concern, according to the city.

The National Marine Fisheries Services is mostly concerned with endangered steelhead trout, and some studies show that periodic closures of estuaries can help steelhead trout breeding, Bermond said.

The steelhead trout and tidewater goby weren’t endangered when the county first started pulling permits to manage the slough mouth, so impacts on those species were never considered. 

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved a $233,938 contract with Rincon Consultants Inc. to analyze ways to open the slough mouth with minimal environmental impact to the steelhead trout and other wildlife.

The city is already working on a biological assessment and long-term strategy plan for the slough, with money contributed by the State Coastal Conservancy, the Goleta Valley Land Trust and the Goleta West Sanitary District.

The latest contract, which is funded separately, will specifically address ideas to open the slough mouth that have minimal environmental impact, Bermond said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.