Latest on FEMA Maps

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   July 5, 2018

At this month’s Montecito Association Land Use Committee, deputy director of Water Resources Tom Fayram reported that the County continues to move forward on a hazard mitigation grant to look at modifying the three debris basins above Montecito: Cold Spring, San Ysidro, and Romero. “We’re trying to expand the size of the basins and improve efficiency through modification of the dams,” Fayram said. The hope is that the modifications will be in effect by the 2019/2020 winter season. 

Fayram also reported that the thresholds for evacuations this upcoming winter will likely be increased to .8 inches of rain in an hour, based on the capacity of the basins and stream channels. He also said there are now protocols in place to have necessary equipment nearby if there is a debris flow. “We are going to be prepared,” he said. 

Regarding the FEMA Interim Advisory Flood Recovery Maps, Fayram said he stands by his decision to urge the Board of Supervisors to approve the maps in June. “Whatever we do, we’ll be subject to criticism,” he said. “I thought, overall, it was a well-done map, and we have a much better representation of the risk in the short term.” Flood Control and FEMA reps are currently working with homeowners who believe there are issues or errors with the map that affect their properties. A Community Informational Meeting next Wednesday, July 11, will take some of these issues into account, as FEMA reps will be on hand to talk with the community at 5:30 pm at Montecito Union School. Homeowners are encouraged to attend the meeting.  

Land Use member Tom Bollay, who raised issues with the map at the Board of Supervisors hearing, said that the map misses 95 percent of the houses that were damaged or destroyed above East Valley Road. He described an unintended consequence of that is that insurance companies will not pay for homeowners to rebuild higher if the map does not reflect the need to do so. “How can we use this as a tool, but also allow people to rebuild safely?” he said. 

County reps were also at the hearing, giving an update on the front lines of helping affected homeowners. So far, 40 meetings have been held with homeowners and their assigned case managers; Flood Control reps are also present at those meetings. Some issues so far: many people do not have copies of their previous home’s plans. “Having those plans are important if they are trying to rebuild like-for-like,” said planner Tess Harris. Homeowners are also encouraged to have topographic and boundary line surveys completed prior to the meeting with their case managers.  

The full board of the Montecito Association will meet next Tuesday, July 10. 

MWD Latest 

Late last week, Montecito Water District (MWD) released its annual Drinking Water Consumer Confidence Report, which shows that Montecito drinking water met or exceeded state and federal water quality standards. The testing was conducted between January 1 and December 31, 2017, and included three main water sources: Lake Cachuma, Jameson Lake, and local groundwater, and included screening for more than 180 contaminants and constituents. The test is available for viewing on the District’s website at

At the District’s June board meeting, several other topics were discussed, including the status of groundwater wells in the Montecito Groundwater Basin. According to engineering manager Adam Kanold, the District’s regular fall 2017 and spring 2018 groundwater well surveys successfully recorded groundwater elevations for 62 wells (19 District-owned, 43 private) in the Montecito Groundwater Basin. The data shows a slight rebound in groundwater elevations across the District, but the majority of wells are still well below 1998 wet weather elevations, and more than 50% are below historic (1991) dry-weather levels.

More than 50 percent of the wells monitored during spring 2018 showed a decrease in groundwater elevation when compared with spring 2017 elevations. It will require several more consecutive wet years to fully recharge the basin. Private well owners who would like to be added to the survey are encouraged to contact the District’s engineering department directly by calling (805) 969-2271. 

As reported last month, the board also adopted the budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018. The budget provides the planning, framework, and functions necessary to improve, maintain, and manage the District’s assets necessary to provide high-quality and reliable water supplies to the Montecito and Summerland communities. The District’s current facilities include approximately 114 miles of pipelines, two surface water treatment plants, 2,556 valves, 922 fire hydrants, 4,605 meters, 51 pressure regulating stations, 12 groundwater wells, and nine pump stations. 

For the 2018-19 fiscal year, the District will have a staff of 27 full-time employees, including engineers, certified treatment and distribution operators, water conservation experts, finance, customer service, and administrative staff. The 2018-19 fiscal year budget forecasts $19,543,454 in Revenue, $16,542,492 in Expenditures, $2,088,157 in Debt Service (non-operating), and $2,712,570 in Capital Improvements. 

During this fiscal year, heavy emphasis will be placed on making permanent repairs to infrastructure following the January 9 debris flow that, among other impacts, damaged pipelines and associated infrastructure at nearly every creek crossing across Montecito. Other limited, high-priority infrastructure replacements and equipment purchases are also budgeted, including $1,231,570 in capital improvement projects and $221,000 in equipment purchases. Additional obligations include $9,170,589 in Joint Power Agency (JPA) commitments and $1,260,000 for remaining regional groundwater storage rights. 

General manager Nick Turner provided an update on disaster-related expenses, saying that booked expenses to date are at approximately $2.5 million, and the projected total upon completion of all future repairs is estimated at $8 million. The District has received a $1.7 million advance from FEMA, and the District will be pursuing additional grants in search of funding to cover the expenses that will not be covered by its insurance and/or FEMA funding. That amount may be at least 6.25% of FEMA-related expenses incurred. Preliminary approvals indicate that the District will have the majority of its disaster-related expenses reimbursed by FEMA, CalOES, and insurance. 

Finally, the Sycamore Canyon Capital Improvement Project was confirmed to be on track for completion by this week. Successful replacement of this 94-year-old pipeline upgrades approximately 4,900 feet of existing 8-inch cast-iron pipe (originally installed in 1923) with new 12-inch ductile iron pipe. 

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