Rain & Evacuations in Montecito

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   February 7, 2019
The storm runoff stayed within the creek channel at Montecito Creek, near Casa Dorinda (photo credit: Montecito Fire Battalion Chief Travis Ederer)

Last Friday, February 1, nearly 1,500 residents were evacuated in anticipation of a predicted storm that was forecasted to exceed debris flow rain threshold rates in the foothills above Montecito. The storm, which produced the most rain in the early morning hours of Saturday, did indeed hit threshold levels estimated at 1 inch per hour, producing mild to moderate flooding in several areas of Montecito. The 101 freeway from Milpas to Highway 150 was closed for roughly 12 hours on Saturday, after flooding made it impassible through Montecito. Despite several downed trees and power lines, residents were allowed to return home Sunday morning at 9 am. Local meteorologist Alan Rose tells us the storm brought our rain totals up to over 16 inches since October, which is well above the average rainfall of 9.5 inches of rain. 

The bridge at North Jameson was partially blocked by a fallen tree; Caltrans reports that the flooding on Highway 101 was due to multiple culverts filling with debris from storm runoff (photo credit: Caltrans Project Manager Jason Kline)

Jameson Lake received 1.63 inches of rain over its watershed during the weekend storms, causing the lake to spill on the morning of February 3. The spill was the first time since 2011, and the lake is now at 100% capacity. “This is great news for the District’s water supply, although water quality issues resulting from the Thomas Fire incident remain a challenge,” said Montecito Water District PIO Laura Camp. No major damage to the water system has been identified. 

The Partnership for Resilient Communities reports that the rainy weather will set back the installation of six steel-ring nets in the canyons above Montecito; crews will begin working on the installation at the end of next week, according to Pat McElroy. “The storms of the last few weeks have shown that we remain at risk due to the effects of the Thomas Fire and the potential for future debris flows,” he said. “In addition, the area around the Whittier Fire, which was spared during the 1/9 debris flow, was severely hit last weekend resulting in a flow that washed out a portion of Hwy 154 indefinitely.”

While the group continues to pursue the installation of the first series of nets above Montecito in the Cold Spring, San Ysidro, and Buena Vista canyons, they continue seeking funding for a $1.5 million shortfall. The conditional use permit given by the County states that the funding must be raised by February 19. For more information, and to donate, visit www.partnershipsb.org. All donations are tax deductible.


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