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Santa Barbara Harbor, Waterfront Addressing Damage, Erosion From ‘Historic’ Swell

An aerial view of the Santa Barbara Harbor showing heavy siltation from recent storms. Officials say a year or two’s worth of sand and sediment has moved into the harbor entrance in a period of 48 hours, rendering it 'essentially non-navigable.' Emergency dredging is expected to begin on Friday.

Posted on January 16, 2023

While the rain itself from the recent storm on Jan. 9 did not particularly affect the Santa Barbara Harbor and Waterfront area, it was the large swell and high tide a few days prior that caused more problems.

“The swell on Jan. 5 and 6, by far, could be considered historic,” said Waterfront Director Mike Wiltshire at Thursday’s special Santa Barbara City Council meeting. “Our hardest hit areas were the Yacht Club, the Yacht Club parking lot, the Harbor Marine Works boat yard, the Waterfront facilities maintenance shop, and really coastal erosion.”

The swell completely washed away the defensive sand berms that had been built in front of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club and Mission Creek, allowing waves to reach Harbor Way and into Waterfront businesses, Wiltshire said.

Despite this, Wiltshire said, all Waterfront businesses are open, except the Yacht Club, and Stearns Wharf held up well.

Without the sand berm, waves were able to come right underneath the Yacht Club building, and sand, water, mud, and other debris were washed onto the club’s parking lot.

The protective sand berm in front of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club and its adjacent facilities was washed away by recent huge waves and high tides. The facility itself weathered the storms, but sustained damage to its plumbing, HVAC, and electrical utilities.

While the club building didn’t sustain any structural damage, Wiltshire said there were some serious impacts to its plumbing, HVAC, and electrical utilities.

Another impact of the swell involved large amounts of sediment brought into the harbor entrance.

“Roughly a year or two’s worth of sand or sediment moved into the harbor entrance in a period of 48 hours, so our harbor entrance is extremely shallow right now, and it’s essentially hazardous to navigate,” Wiltshire said. “Although some vessels can get out on a high tide, it’s essentially non-navigable at this time.”

Wiltshire said that the Waterfront made contact with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will be conducting emergency dredging in the harbor as soon as Friday morning.

He added that, because it’s emergency dredging, it will be different from usual dredging — instead of moving all the sediment directly to East Beach, it will be temporarily discharged on West Beach.

To try to combat the coastal erosion, the Waterfront is constructing a rock revetment to replace some of the coastal land mass that eroded.

“As with the rain event this weekend, following the rain event on Monday and Tuesday of next week, there is supposed to be a fairly significant swell again,” Wiltshire said.

“We really have no coastal defense — most of our sand berms are eroded, the ice plant has eroded — so getting something in place there to sort of protect further infrastructure damage is important to do in short order.”

Wiltshire said that clean-up efforts in the harbor and waterfront area are wrapping up, although crews are continuing to monitor the swell and tides, especially as February and March are typically the biggest swell season.

“We’re going to take action to possibly close the breakwater as needed, possibly close Stearns Wharf as needed, and maybe cone off and close some of our parking lot areas as needed, just to be safe and make sure that people aren’t in harm’s way with storm inundation,” Wiltshire said.



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