Paul Wellman

As the rainy season draws near, an ambitious plan to protect Montecito residents and properties from another catastrophic debris flow is quickly taking shape. Underwritten by the Partnership for Resilient Communities ​— ​a nonprofit formed in the wake of the 1/9 Debris Flow ​— ​geologists and engineers have been scouting the upper reaches of Montecito’s major canyons for areas where anchored steel “ring nets” could likely stop torrents of boulders and uprooted trees unleashed by intense rainfall. A recent outing in Buena Vista Canyon (pictured above) found steep mountainsides still loaded with loose soil and rock. On the morning of January 9, Buena Vista Creek, blocked by a clogged culvert under Park Lane, jumped its bank and tore through nearby neighborhoods. The partnership, partially bankrolled by wealthy anonymous donors, estimates that 16 ring nets will cost $5.4 million to purchase and install. Hot Springs, Cold Spring, San Ysidro, and Romero canyons would each get two ring nets ​— ​placed upstream of existing debris basins ​— ​and Buena Vista Canyon, which has no basin, would get eight.

A ring net holds back mud and debris in Camarillo Springs.
KANE GeoTech, Inc.

While proponents aim to have the nets ready for action this winter, significant hurdles remain. A bevy of permits, from Santa Barbara County to the Department of Fish & Wildlife to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, need to be secured, in part because Montecito’s wild creeks are home to ​— ​or at least suitable habitat for ​— ​federally listed endangered steelhead trout and California red-legged frogs. On Tuesday in Romero Canyon, biologists John Storrer and Jessica Peak, hired by the partnership, completed their “initial field reconnaissance” of wildlife habitat throughout the five canyons, Storrer said, adding, “The biggest issue is that if the nets fill up they could create obstructions that prohibit fish from traveling upstream.”

More light will be shed on that issue and others at a forum hosted by the Urban Creeks Council on September 17 in the auditorium at Montecito Union School.


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