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Debris basin projects ongoing three years after the Montecito mudflow disaster

San Ysidro Creek
Santa Barbara County flood control projects have prepared debris basins in an area hard hit by a deadly mudflow three years ago. (Photo: John Palminteri)

MONTECITO, Calif. - After the explosive Montecito mudflow disaster in 2018, work has been ongoing to expand debris basins in the front country areas of Southern Santa Barbara County.

They're still prone to large debris flows if intensive winter storms hit the area.

The 2018 disaster took 23 lives. It also damaged and destroyed hundreds of houses and businesses from the foothills to the shoreline. Highway 101 at Olive Mill Road was closed for nearly two weeks because of mud and damage to the transportation corridor.

Santa Barbara County Flood Control Engineering Manager Jon Frye recapped some of the work since the tragic event. He said the Cold Spring debris basin was a "big excavation project." It was completed in October of 2020.

He said it made the basin significantly bigger, and capable of handling runoffs that typically have debris of all sizes and include rocks, boulders, tree stumps and tons of dirt from the nearby hills.

Of the four existing basins in the area, operational improvements are planned.

Frye said that includes, "modifying the structures so there is a better flow of the finer sediments through the structures so those don't get trapped. We don't need to trap the fine sediments, we want the basins to trap the bigger material and it will also provide fish passage through those structures."

The four basins are the Cold Springs, San Ysidro, Romero (all in Montecito) and the Santa Monica (Carpinteria).

They are targeting construction there in summer of this year.

On Randall Road "we are proposing to go out to construction this summer,  so we are on track for that. We are still in the property acquisition on that."

The county is still seeking funding from FEMA on the Buena Vista creek project.

Looking ahead, improvements planned for the Santa Monica area will be a $5 million project.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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