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Ray Ford

Hydromulching Nears 50 Percent Coverage in Forest; Private Lands Next

Worries Still Remain About the Effectiveness of the Treatment


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

While six smaller fixed-wing aircraft ferry load after load of a thick green substance known as “hydromulch” from the airport, at Rancho San Fernando the huge Erickson Air-Crane known as a “heavy lift” sucks up from 1,800-2,000 gallons of it, lifts off, and within minutes is back on the ground ready for the next load.

This thick green, gooey substance covers the burned area with a layer of coating that resists erosion.
Click to enlarge photo

Ray Ford

This thick green, gooey substance covers the burned area with a layer of coating that resists erosion.

At the morning briefing yesterday, September 30, there was optimism that the Los Padres Forest portion of the coverage would be completed this weekend. “Actually, we’re scrambling a bit to get our contract finished for the mulching to be done on the private lands,” Deputy Public Works Director Tom Fayram said. “But this is good news because this should allow us to complete the balance of the work by the end of next week.”

Two thousand gallons of hydromulch is pumped through this hose into the helicopter in less than two minutes.
Click to enlarge photo

Ray Ford

Two thousand gallons of hydromulch is pumped through this hose into the helicopter in less than two minutes.

Fayram also noted that all of the stream clearing work has been completed, the sediment basin work has been finished, all but one of the debris racks is in place, and all that needs to be done is add “K” rail along Los Carneros for flood protection and clear out one culvert in the Rancho del Ciervo area.

Though Fayram is optimistic, the bottom line may be what happens on the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains this winter. Thus far, just under 50 percent of the 1,531 acres being treated with hydromulch by the Forest Service has been coated. “Yesterday we had 231 trips made by the fixed-wing aircraft and 92 by the Air-Crane,” Forest Service spokesperson Helen Tarbet said. “So far we’ve dropped 1,800,000 gallons and the weather is being extremely cooperative. Without the marine layer in the mornings we’re able to get an early start.”

By Ray Ford

From my viewpoint at Windermere Ranch, the work was impressive. From below the aircraft continued to drop layer after layer using GPS coordinates to coat the ground to an accuracy of less than three feet. Simultaneously, field crews survey the drop areas to ensure accuracy, coverage, and thickness. Each night the data, along with images being taken from above, are used to determine whether additional coverage is needed. “We’ve had a few spots they’ve had to re-coat,” another Forest Service employee said, “but on the whole the project is going well.”

Once the Forest Service portion has been completed, the contracting company, Aerotech, will begin work on private lands covering the lower slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains. “We have just about 1,000 acres that need to be treated,” Fayman said. “That includes 18 of the larger ranches and a number of smaller plots. There were some owners who wouldn’t provide the right of entry through their property so those parcels won’t have the hydromulch applied, but otherwise everyone has been really cooperative.”

While the National Forest portion of the hydromulch costs amount to $4.8 million, the locals costs will be much less. Of the $3.2 million for the private lands, 75 percent of the cost will be covered the National Resource Conservation Service, and of the remaining 25 percent, three-fourths of that will be covered by the state, leaving the City of Goleta, City of Santa Barbara, and county with expenses totalling just under $100,000 each.

Though everyone is hopeful the mixture of recycled paper, wood fiber, water, and binding agent will prove sturdy enough to hold up to winter rains, there is still a concern that this will not be enough, especially if this is an above-average rain year or we have even one major storm that drops a ton of rain over a very short period of time.

As one of those who lives near the bottom of one of the canyons noted, “We’ve put all our eggs in one basket by using only the mulch up there. Let’s hope it holds.”

The Independent will monitor storm impacts throughout the winter.

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