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Santa Barbara County plans emergency dredging at Carpinteria Salt Marsh

A nature park at the edge of Carpinteria that has been established to protect the estuary ecosystem.
Photo by Aleta A. Rodriguez
A nature park at the edge of Carpinteria that has been established to protect the estuary ecosystem.

Santa Barbara County is planning an emergency dredging project at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh to help protect the area from flooding.

Extreme storms in January brought a lot of sediment to watersheds like the Carpinteria Salt Marsh. Sediment buildup in channels means there’s less space for water to flow, putting surrounding communities at risk of flooding.

“The salt marsh channel dredging is a necessary part of the operations and safety for the Carpinteria community,” SB County Flood District Environmental Manager Andrew Raaf said. “It removes sediment from the drainage channels and allows proper flow through the salt marsh and the upstream flood protection facilities.”

The county plans to start dredging around mid-March. Sediment will be taken out of the marsh until it’s no longer a flood risk. The dredge may operate up to 24 hours a day and seven days a week to speed up the process.

Dredging to protect the area from flooding is vital because the region is especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Back in 2018, when a deadly mudslide hit Montecito, the county did emergency dredging on the same marsh.

Greta Mart
A home in Montecito after the 2018 debris flow.

Sediment buildup in channels not only increases flood risk but interrupts the tidal cycle in the marsh. This reduces habitat for fish and wildlife that rely on open water channels for habitat and foraging.

Raaf said this is why dredging benefits both the community and the environment, though nearby residents may experience short-term inconveniences such as trail and beach closures.

“The main impact on the community is that the Carpinteria area will be better protected from flood and debris hazards,” Raaf said. “There may be short-term, temporary impacts to the neighborhoods. We certainly appreciate the residents' patience.”

Raaf said luckily, the operation should be pretty quiet.

The county is directly reaching out to residents near the marsh with updates.

For more information on the county’s response to the local emergency, visit readysbc.org.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.
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