<b>QUICK FIX: </b> The City of Santa Barbara's airport planner Andrew Bermond stands next to the siphon installed to drain off some of the Goleta Slough, whose high waters are causing problems for airplanes and a boost in mosquitoes.

Cynthia Carbone Ward

QUICK FIX: The City of Santa Barbara's airport planner Andrew Bermond stands next to the siphon installed to drain off some of the Goleta Slough, whose high waters are causing problems for airplanes and a boost in mosquitoes.

Siphoning Off Goleta Slough

Steelhead Concerns Wrap Airport, Cities, County, State, and Feds in Coastal Conundrum

Wednesday, May 15, 2013
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For more than two decades, the Goleta Slough’s naturally closing mouth has been regularly re-opened to the ocean by tractors from the County of Santa Barbara’s Flood Control District to stop the estuary from becoming stagnant, a situation that historically caused massive fish die-offs. The stagnant slough is also a problem for humans, due to the resulting stench, bugs, and, much more seriously, the risk of airplanes from the Santa Barbara Airport smashing into big birds like geese and ducks that congregate when the blocked waterway starts to pool.

But because federal regulators are worried about what opening the mouth might mean for endangered steelhead trout, the Goleta Slough has been silted-in since March, bird numbers are booming at the airport, and danger is rising faster than the water can recede. Last week, faced with few short-term options and no one else pursuing a long-range remedy, the City of Santa Barbara swooped in to tackle the bureaucratic nightmare — which is also causing trouble for the City of Goleta’s nearly $30 million San Jose Creek project — by siphoning off the slough into the ocean through a 12-inch wide pipe that now crosses the eastern edge of the Goleta Beach parking lot and will likely be there for a couple weeks to come. “It’s an interesting experiment,” said airport planner Andrew Bermond on Tuesday, bemoaning the whole situation and the siphon solution’s slower-than-expected flow, “but it’s definitely not a long-term solution.”

The saga begins in the early 1990s, when state wildlife officers worried about fish kills and the slough’s health asked Flood Control to periodically open the mouth, typically about two weeks after it silted in. “It wasn’t necessarily flood control, but it was one of those things we did and continued to do, and we thought it was a good thing,” said Tom Fayram, current head of the county district. By the mid-1990s, the district had to obtain long-term permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, and that wasn’t a problem until last fall, when the National Marine Fisheries Service expressed concern over impacts to steelhead, a species that wasn’t endangered when the breaching first began and is now known to be present in the watershed.

“We immediately saw that the requirements to make that happen were going to be so extraordinary and costly,” explained Fayram, so he decided to no longer pursue the permit because it would “drag down” the rest of his district’s countywide work. “And in the end, it’s not a flood control project.”

After last winter’s final permitted breach, shifting sands shut the slough in March, and by April, the presence of big birds was freaking out pilots and air traffic controllers at the airport, where take-offs and approaches had to be delayed so workers could chase geese and ducks off of runways. “It was something we did a couple times a year, and now we do a couple times a month,” explained Bermond, who is used to about a dozen Canadian geese in the spring, but said the numbers have swelled to more than 100, with similar boosts for other “problem birds” like duck and geese. “We can’t have bird numbers spike like this,” said Bermond. “That’s not a sustainable thing for us.”

It’s actually a bit of deja vu for Bermond, who recently led an innovative restoration project to return tidal flow to the slough in order to replace the large waterfowl that flock to seasonal, stagnant wetlands with smaller shorebirds that frequent coastal, regularly flushing estuaries. But that project, which was only approved after years of study and much back-and-forth with the Federal Aviation Administration, was contingent on the slough being mostly open. “It was understood that the maintenance permit would continue,” said Bermond, explaining that the feds’ concerns were a bit of a “late hit” for Flood Control. “With the slough mouth closed, we are back in the seasonal wetland scenario.”

The only option on the table — other than quickly killing dozens of birds — was to pursue an emergency breach permit from the California Coastal Commission, which recommended he check out the siphoning idea proposed by the City of Goleta, as the high water was affecting the San Jose Creek renovation. Since Goleta’s problem was just delayed construction and not a true emergency, Bermond “took up that project description and made it ours.” The City of Santa Barbara obtained the necessary permits on May 6 and, by that afternoon, the siphon was in place.

To date, a week later, only six inches of the required 2.5 feet have been siphoned off, a slower pace because the pipe gets clogged at night due to high-tide sands. But Bermond believes the water level will be properly reduced by the end of the 30-day permit, and is also taking on the job of applying again for the long-term permits that were dropped by Flood Control. “Our economic and ecological investment in the Goleta Slough depends on a tidal estuary,” said Bermond, but he’s mostly happy that no one’s been hurt yet. “We’re very lucky.”

Those who live or work nearby the slough may not, however, as mosquito numbers are exploding exponentially, according to Larry Fausett, general manager of the county’s Vector Management District. Normally, their overnight traps catch 250 bugs, or 500 in a bad season, but last week, the count was 25,000, and 97 percent of the bugs were the species that can carry West Nile Virus.

“It’s a classic example of single-species management being very short-sighted,” said Fausett, who previously ran operations for Flood Control and is quite critical of the feds’ steelhead clampdown. “If you try to do something for just one species and you don’t think of all the other species, you’re not doing your job.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Yup, huge rise in mosquito bites in the IV/UCSB area too.

Historically, Devereux and Goleta Sloughs connected... still remnants of dikes & flow control machinery near the UCSB plice station. Wonder if they could flow through there, or open the flow channel again during the dry season.

The Goleta Slough was a bird stopping point for 100's of millennia. Early settlers described the sky going dark when they all went airborne together.

To the City of Santa Barbara, those birds are now just a nuisance.

pardallchewinggumspot (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 2:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Isn't that airport going to be underwater anyway?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 2:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Just more proof that the Steelhead Recovery Plan has very little to do with restoring the fish population, and EVERYTHING to do with making life miserable/impossible for humans at an astronomiocal cost in both dollars and lost jobs in the private sector.

The biologists have set goals that are just about impossible to achieve - unless we go back to the horse and wagon days... or even better, living the exact same lifestyle as the Chumash 400 years ago.

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 2:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

KV, the airport won't be underwater because it wasn't "below" the famous blue line.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 3:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Just open the mouth already! I highly doubt the estuary naturally filled in 250 years ago. Maybe it did 100 years ago when ranchers and their cattle had been clearing all the vegetation for a hundred years allowing silt to fill in the marshes and cause the mouth to fill in. It's a tidal estuary. That means it needs to interact with the tides.

laxer (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 5:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I believe that the birds once dined upon the mosquitoes now eating us.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 6:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is all a very humorous reminder of the costs of human arrogance. First you build an airport in the middle of what used to be a deep water bay that was later turned into a tidal estuary due to human development upstream. Now you have to pay lots of money forever draining the swamp to keep the runways dry and keep the geese and ducks from flying into aircraft. In the mean time (which according the Jimi Hendrix is a groovy time) everyone is gnashing their teeth over tax rates and high cost of government programs that include the annual draining of swamps. Hahahahaha. We are a funny species.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 7:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As usual, Eckermann has nailed the big picture.

The Light Blue Line maps @Google Earth cover 1m to 7m sea rise scenarios. No impact at 1m, but somewhere beginning between 1m and 3m, SBA runways are underwater.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 8:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Seems wiser to have started relocating the airport than build new terminals with glass structures etc. So much for the wisdom of the establishment.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 15, 2013 at 9:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Our airport also gets fogged in... on a foggy morning, if you miss the first flights out that landed the night before, you can spend the whole day taking a nice bus trip to LAX.

It always made more sense to get the airport out of the Slough and out of the fog. The City of Santa Barbara's environmental sensibilities stop at about La Cumbre... when it comes to the Goleta Slough they are similar to Big Oil.

I remember during the hearings for the terminal expansion, City of Santa Barbara employees said pilots had no control over where they fly as they take off... about 10% of planes swoop over Isla Vista (subdivided in 1925 before the airport was there) and make a big racket. Nothing any pilot could do, the City said.

pardallchewinggumspot (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 6:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Seems to me this should have been considered w/ the airport expansion EIR.
It's hard to imagine birds not congregating around an estuary. Not!
Estuary, insects, birds, fish. Not Walmart and Target

easternpacific (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 9:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The airport can cause lots of noise over IV ... when I used to live there, I once overslept and was woken by the plane I had missed.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 10:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think Pardall brings up a vital issue, why doesn't the board of supes use some of that hot air they keep passing us to break up the fog?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 11:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Georgy (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 4:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

That is some disgusting looking pooh water.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2013 at 11:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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