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Dredging by Pacific Dredge & Construction begins to protect Santa Barbara harbor entrance

Posted on January 10, 2024

With big storms, large swells and tons of sand comes a concern about the Santa Barbara harbor entrance, and work is underway to keep it open.

Waterfront Director Mike Wiltshire said work should begin by the middle of the month.

The breakwater entrance to the harbor and the northwest section will be the focus of the upcoming work. Funding is in place to cover the costs as part of the regular contract with Pacific Dredge & Construction. This is not emergency work, it times out just right with the storm issues recently.

The harbor entrance has, in the past, been clogged by sand from both the natural wave action and the aggressive storms that come through. In 2023, it was barely passable at one point after storms filled up the opening. Even at high tide, some vessels were not cleared to get in or out until the work was done.

About 1400 boats are in the Santa Barbara harbor, both recreational and commercial.

The contract for the dredging is in a federal channel and the work is approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and conducted by Pacific Dredge.

Wiltshire said, “they dredge on two cycles so one time in the fall slash winter and one time in the spring.   So this is about perfect timing.”

Once the work begins, the sand will be transported though a large pipe, visible from West Beach to an area east of the skatepark. From there, the sand is released, and currents will take it down the coast where it often replenishes beaches that have lost sand due to wave action.

Wiltshire said it would “hopefully bring back some of the the volleyball courts that were lost there in front of Cabrillo Pavilion.”

Timing is always important and this year there’s an example of what could have been an issue. “If they had dredged before this swell, it’s likely  that a lot of sediment would have moved in after they dredged so  it’s really nice that they are  mobilizing,” said Wiltshire.

Some people who were watching the set up included a visitor who grew up here and went boating in the 60’s.

Steve Johnson said, “if it’s not going to be done this harbor is not going to be functional.” He said the work was very valuable to the harbor and community. He also noted, not many boats can make it through an entrance full of sand even at high tide. “Depending on the boat they are going to draft differently so a lot of these boats are fixed keel so they don’t have a choice and they are going to have to pick a time when they come through.”


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