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Minor debris flows but no major problems in Montecito during latest storm

Posted at 5:44 PM, Jan 17, 2019

Many people in Montecito were on edge Thursday morning, waiting to see if the latest storm would take them back to the devastating place they were in one year ago. But despite some minor debris flows, Santa Barbara County officials have many reasons to breathe a sigh of relief.

Thursday morning’s storm was the strongest system Montecito has seen since the 1/9 Debris Flow.

The Office of Emergency Management worked overnight, tracking storm totals and sending out emergency alerts.

“All in all, everything went well this morning,” said Robert Lewin, Director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management. “The basins did their job and people responded to the messaging. We didn’t lose a day of work, we didn’t lose a day of school, and so everything seems to be as it should be.”

The OEM decided not to order evacuations because of the weather forecast from the National Weather Service, providing a bit of a reprieve to those that have been forced out of their homes several times.

“We were evacuated for three or four weeks,” recalled Blair Buster, Montecito resident. “We couldn’t get back into our house and it was just awful, the devastation across from our house in Riven Rock and all over, so this brought up all those feelings.”

The area did some see some small debris flows, like at Bella Vista Rd., which had to be closed due to a mudslide, but the county says most of the creeks worked the way they were supposed to.

“The storm was within the capabilities of those basins, but of course this is a much more normal rain storm that we would get as opposed to the rainstorm of 1/9, which was much more geologically significant,” said Tom Fayram, Santa Barbara County Deputy Public Works Director.

Now comes the long and expensive part of cleaning out the creeks again.

“The good news is we don’t have any rain following, so we’ll be able to take the following part of the week and do it as efficiently as possible,” Fayram said. “You can spend a lot of money trying to get the material out in a hurry, which is what we would do if need be, but it’s much more efficient if we can stockpile it to the side and haul it out when it’s drier.”

The county says the rain rates were positive for the Gibraltar water basin. They expect Lake Cachuma water levels to be higher because of this storm.