Wednesday, September 24, 2008

City funds hydromulch


The race to beat winter rains and stem potential flooding in areas impacted by the Gap Fire continued yesterday when the Santa Barbara City Council agreed to contribute $70,000 to an effort to spread hydromulch over about 1,000 acres of charred land.
While the City of Santa Barbara isn’t at risk of flooding, the airport, which is under the city’s jurisdiction, is.

At a mere 10-feet above sea level and with four creeks that drain the nearby Santa Ynez Mountains cutting through airport land, some feel flooding could be the rule this winter, not the exception.
However, officials hope dropping the green, organic mulch over the land will go a long way to preventing widespread erosion in the Gap Fire burn area that could quickly clog creeks and push rivers over their banks.
“Everything that hits the mountains comes through those creeks and it will end up in the airport,” said Assistant Airport Director Hazel Johns. “If it rains really heavily, we’ll probably still take on some silt and flooding, but we feel this will help us.”
The Santa Barbara funds will be pooled with matching amounts from Goleta and the County of Santa Barbara. The money will be used to spread the mulch over mostly private, at-risk acreage not part of National Forest land.
An additional 1,500 acres of National Forest land will also receive a blanket of hydromulch, which will be paid for by the U.S. Forest Service.
The mulching operation within the national forest is scheduled to begin today, and is expected to continue for three to four weeks. When it is complete, the six small airplanes and one large helicopter will begin dropping the mulch over the land within local control.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the hydromulch is made of an all-organic mix of recycled paper and wood fiber, water and a binding agent made of guar gum, a plant-based substance commonly used to make food thicker. The mulch does not contain seeds or fertilizer, but does require use of an organic green dye to help pilots monitor its application, a statement from the Forest Service said.
Tom Fayram, the county’s deputy director of water resources, said he’s confident the county is doing all it can to prevent major flooding.
He said efforts to reinforce culverts, clear creeks of debris and excavate material from low-lying areas near the airport, just above the Goleta Slough, are nearly complete.
Now it’s a race against time, though Fayram said all of the preparations are right on schedule.
Of the 9,500 acres burned during the Gap Fire, less than half will receive a cover of mulch. Fayram said most of the remaining acreage is either too steep, or too rocky to justify the costly procedure.
A statement from the Forest Service said it will cost $3,200 per acre to spread mulch over its 1,500 acres, for a total of $4.8 million.
About 75 percent of the cost to spread mulch over the 1,000 acres shared by Santa Barbara, Goleta and the county, will be covered by the Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. The state Office of Emergency Services will fund 25 percent of the local share, leaving roughly 6 percent to local agencies, according to Fayram.
While Fayram said flooding is possible in any of the low-lying areas in the shadow of the Gap Fire, he said he’s particularly concerned about the areas that flood even when there hasn’t been a fire.
One such area is the airport, which was forced to close for three days in 1995 and closed for one day during 1998 as a result of flooding.
In 1995, Assistant Airport Director Johns said the airport’s infield was completely submerged after the creeks spilled over their banks, creating a lake where planes needed to land.
Since these floods, Johns said the airport has done several things to prepare for future rain-related events. For instance, she said the airport rerouted Tecolotito Creek to the west, and Los Carneros Creek to the east to improve water flow.
She also said the county’s Flood Control District widened the flood basin of the creeks, and now regularly dredges them.
The city council seemed to have few issues spending the $70,000 on hydromulching. When the rains come, they just hope it’s enough.
“I just hope Mother Nature is kind to us,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum.
More information about what measures have been taken to prevent flooding is available at

No comments: