Rainstorm Lands With Ferocity

Goleta Slough Nearly Floods the Airport; Many Mesa Residents without Power

The Santa Barbara Airport was in very real danger of flooding this morning before county officials gave an emergency order to breach the Goleta Slough and let it flow into the ocean.
Paul Wellman

After brewing winds and some early spitting, the largest storm to hit Santa Barbara in years landed on the South Coast at about 11:30 a.m. today, bringing with it strong winds, rough waves, and waterfalls of rain. Most don’t think that it will rescue California immediately from the state’s severe drought conditions, but the deluge will certainly help. Of course, the expected four to six inches of rain and severe weather also managed to wreak an expected level of havoc on streets and in neighborhoods all around Santa Barbara, with fallen trees and power outages reported in multiple areas.

It takes more than a flooded bike path to keep UCSB physics grad student Katharine Hyatt from going to class.
Paul Wellman

Earlier this morning, City Fire crews were dispatched to the 700 block of Carpinteria Street to deal with a transformer incident that caused power issues in the area and trapped a group of people in a nearby elevator. Around the same time, live power lines fell on a building and into the road near Casique and Milpas streets. No injuries were reported. Also this morning, a tree fell on an unoccupied car in the 1900 block of State Street, and another tree collapsed into power lines in the 3100 block of Cliff Drive on the Mesa. Currently, more than 950 Southern California Edison customers on the Mesa are without power. According to Edison’s online outage center, repair crews have been notified and are working on the problem. Toward the west end of Isla Vista, around 200 residents are currently without power.

From midnight last night to noon today, 1.55 inches of rain had fallen at the Santa Barbara Airport, 1.71 inches in Montecito, 2.88 inches on the San Marcos Pass, and 3.69 inches at the Lake Cachuma Dam.

Crews dug a trench east of Goleta Beach to release flooding in the slough, airport, and surrounding areas.
Paul Wellman

Many eyes were also on the Goleta Slough, which has not been opened to the Pacific Ocean for about a year. The previous program of opening the slough’s mouth periodically to stop stagnation hit bureaucratic snags in March 2013 when federal officials would no longer sign off on the practice without further assessment of steelhead trout populations. So over the preceding days of rain, the water levels grew perilously close to flooding the Santa Barbara Airport as the County of Santa Barbara applied for an emergency permit to open the slough.

That permit finally came through at about 11:40 a.m. on Friday, about 10 minutes after the first wave of torrential rain smashed into Goleta Beach. The backhoe busted through the sand right at 11:45 a.m., and the waters started flowing out, with quite a few onlookers, including a handful of county and airport officials looking on from both the windswept beach and the drier safety of their cars.

“The slough is at the highest I have ever seen it,” said Andrew Bermond, project planner for the Santa Barbara Airport. As of this morning, Bermond said, the slough’s water level was at about nine feet — the runway elevation is 11 feet — which is about four more feet than the slough’s normal water level. On Wednesday, Bermond said, the level was only at five-and-a-half feet and has risen exponentially in the time since.

Water levels rise along San Jose Creek in Goleta
Paul Wellman

Bermond said concerns arose over the rising water’s effect on nearby homes and businesses, which already were seeing a lot of accumulated water. But the breach will have immediate benefits, Bermond said. “In a day or so, we’ll see the threat eliminated and almost as soon as it’s opened, it would start to diminish.” The last time the slough needed an emergency breach was in December 2012, Bermond said, when the slough had reached about seven feet.

The Goleta Slough Management Committee recently released a study on the effects of projected sea-level rise on the slough. One of the main concerns in the study was how increasing sea levels would coincide with strong rainfall to turn the slough into a bathtub, making storm drains unable to drain.


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