Flood Control

The Santa Barbara County Flood Control & Water Conservation District

The primary purpose of the Flood Control is to provide flood protection and to conserve storm, flood and surface waters for beneficial public use. When Flood Control was first created in 1955 by the State legislature in response to severe flooding and damage suffered from storms in the early 1950s, its primary charge was to implement a program of channel maintenance and capital improvements to mitigate the threat to life and property from flooding.

Flood Control was empowered through Chapter 74 of the California Water Code to pursue various activities including the control of flood and storm waters and the conservation of such waters for beneficial use, to cooperate with other federal, state, and local agencies; and to review adequacy of drainage plans for new subdivisions within the County.

Today, Flood Control's major programs involve channel maintenance, design and construction of capital improvements, review of new development, and operation of a hydrological data collection/flood warning system. Flood Control is divided into ten active flood control zones including most of the county unincorporated area and the seven cities in the County.

Overview of Programs and Services:

This section contains information about the services and programs provided by the Flood Control District.

Capital Improvement Program:  

This link will take you to the County Executive Office web page. Please look under the Budget menu for the latest Capital Improvement Program information.

Creek Clearing and Annual Maintenance Program:  

This section contains an overview of the District's current and planned efforts to maintain creeks and waterways, as prescribed in the Annual Maintenance Plan approved by the District Board.

Environmental Protection Efforts:  

This section addresses one or more current projects or efforts of the Flood Control District to protect and enhance the environment while provided flood control measures to protect property. 

CEQA Notices

Randall Road Debris Basin CEQA Notice of Preparation (Feb 13, 2019)

The Flood Control Benefit Assessment

Current Bid Openings:  

This section has postings of any current bid openings. 

Weather Information

Ways to obtain current weather information from the National Weather Service.


Programs and Services

The Flood Control District's activities include channel maintenance, design and construction of capital improvements, review of new development, and a hydrologic data collection/flood warning system. The following sections provide detail regarding the District's operation and responsibilities.

Operation and Maintenance

The Operation and Maintenance Program is one of the District's highest priority ongoing programs. It involves normal operation of the District's basins, channels, and other flood protection facilities and the routine and emergency maintenance and repair of these facilities. Maintenance of channels, debris basins, dams and storm drain facilities prevents minor storm problems from becoming major flood problems. Inoperation of the facilities or blockage caused by trash or mud could unnecessarily result in extensive damage to private property. It includes the routine maintenance and operation of dams, 264 miles of channels and storm drains, 78 retention/recharge/debris basins and many major storm drain systems.
The Flood Control District's aggressive channel maintenance program is directed at preserving and maximizing the flood carrying capacity of existing creeks, channels and rivers. Channels are cleared of obstructive vegetation and deposited sediments in order to allow flood waters to flow unhindered. In addition, the maintenance program operates and maintains a series of debris basins, retardation basins, and groundwater recharge basins. Routine maintenance of these facilities is essential to preserving their operating effectiveness.

Flood control maintenance is accomplished through three basic methods: heavy equipment work, hand clearing, and herbicide application. Throughout the County, natural and man-made flood control facilities in the County are subject to damage and loss of capacity through sedimentation, vegetation growth, bank erosion, and other obstructions by debris. The District uses heavy equipment to remove sediment, clear obstructive vegetation, and correct erosion problems. In many streams on the South Coast, obstructive vegetation is removed by hand crews using chain saws and other hand tools. Throughout the County, herbicides are used to inhibit the growth of obstructive vegetation and to control weed growth on a variety of sites. The Division's maintenance crews are generally separated into a South Coast crew based in Santa Barbara, and a North County crew with shops in Santa Maria and Lompoc.

In addition to the maintenance crews in the field, the District has two full-time staff to fulfill the environmental requirements of the District Maintenance operations. These staff members are responsible for permitting of maintenance activities, monitoring of activities for compliance, planning/implementing mitigation efforts associated with maintenance work, and assisting other District and Departmental needs on environmental issues.

Emergency Storm Response

During flood events, District staff immediately change into an emergency response organization, emphasizing flood-fighting and support activities. This emergency response mode involves personnel in all categories (engineering, technical, administrative and maintenance) in around-the-clock operations. Staff from all of the Engineering sections provide assistance through answering phone calls, storm monitoring (rainfall, stream flow), radio dispatching, field patrolling, and computer modeling/floodflow forecasting.

Activities in the emergency operations mode include both the pre-planned routines such as the monitoring of all flood facilities and equipment, the operation of dams and channel gates, and the provision of logistics support, field operations headquarters and responses to emergency situations.

In addition to the personnel from within the Division, private sector services and equipment are used for emergency debris removal and repair of facilities. Some of these emergency costs may be partially reimbursed by State or Federal disaster assistance, but from a cash flow standpoint, the District must have emergency reserve funds immediately available for this purpose. Past disasters have shown that as little as 50% of the total disaster costs are ultimately reimbursed by the State and federal government, and only after many months, and sometimes years, after the flood event.

Storm Rehabilitation Program

The Storm Rehabilitation Program provides for post-storm rehabilitation of flood control facilities damaged in any storm disaster. The objective of the program is to return the flood control system to the state of readiness that existed prior to the storms. The program includes the removal of debris from access roads, reservoirs, debris basins and channels, and reconstruction and repair as necessary.

The Storm Rehabilitation Program enables the District to concentrate its own resources by: (I) quickly assessing complete storm damage; (2) prioritizing District resources for rehabilitation and repair; (3) maximizing efforts to secure State and federal funding, where possible; (4) completing rehabilitation work as soon as possible to prevent further damage and provide protection from subsequent storms using District personnel and private contractors; and (5) contact/request for assistance, i.e. Army Corps of Engineers PL-99 funds.

Due to the time lag between the request for state and federal aid and the possible receipt of funds, as well as the real possibility of not receiving funds, the District must utilize its own available funds to repair storm damaged facilities. Repair of storm damage to District facilities on a rush priority basis is important since subsequent storm activity could further damage the facilities and areas outside the facilities. Delays in corrective measures would increase the potential for further losses to the public.

Debris Control

The objectives of the Debris Control Program include the planning and construction of adequate debris control facilities, the routine scheduled clearance and disposal of debris from basins and dams, and removal of accumulated debris in channels. The District operates and maintains 22 major debris basins which serve as its primary debris control system. The dams and debris basins restrain rock, sand, silt, mud and organic debris such as trees that would otherwise clog drainage channels resulting in flooding of adjacent property and downstream flood plains. A five-year permit was approved in FY 96/97 to streamline the permitting process for routine debris control activities identified in the Flood Control District's Annual Maintenance Plan.

Major Storm Repair Program

The primary objective of the Major Storm Repair Program is to provide the resources necessary to repair identified deficiencies and breakdowns in the flood control system. Activities performed to meet program objectives include channel repair, levee and revetment repairs, restoration of debris basins, repair of access roads, and replacement of operating gates and valves as needed.

Flood Plain Management

The Flood Plain Management Program is one of the District's most important activities. Through this program, the District reviews proposed subdivisions and single building permit applications for elevation above the 100-year flood level. Proposed development is checked for conformance with the Flood Plain Management Ordinances, setback from major watercourses, adequacy of drainage plans, regional drainage planning, and protection of existing development. This review is intended to prevent future flood hazards from being created in developing areas and to eliminate the need for constructing future expensive flood control facilities.

Because of the standards employed and in recognition of other District programs, individuals within the unincorporated areas of the County receive a discount on their flood insurance rates. Benefits include the prevention of losses in flood-prone areas and reduced need for public emergency response during storm activity. The floodplain maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Santa Barbara County and the seven cities are a valuable tool in regulating development in floodplain areas.

Santa Ynez River Storm Monitoring System

The Santa Ynez River Storm Monitoring System gives occupants located in flood hazard areas along the Santa Ynez River advance warning of impending floods. Since its installation in the late 1970's, the system has helped to reduce flood losses by providing advanced warning of large rainfall and streamflow events. The Santa Ynez River Storm Monitoring System is part of the county's ALERT Network (Automated Local Evaluation in Real Time) and is maintained and operated by the Hydrology Section of the Water Resources Division. The ALERT Network is comprised of a network of remote sensors which record and remotely transmit hydrological and climatilogical data such as rainfall, streamflow, reservoir elevations, dam gate openings, wind, temperature, barometric, and relative humidity. The transmitted data is received by the Hydrology Section in "real time" (as it happens) and then compiled in a central computer system where it can be easily accessed, analyzed, and disseminated. The ALERT Network can also be remotely accessed by storm monitoring personnel anytime via the Internet. Information received from the ALERT Network is used as input to the District's Santa Ynez River flood model, known as the FC RIVER model. This model is capable of forecasting flows up to 48 hours in advance along the entire Santa Ynez River from its headwaters through three reservoirs (Jameson Lake, Gibraltar Lake, and Lake Cachuma) to the Pacific Ocean.

Construction Projects to Address Flood Problems

The District designs and constructs flood control projects throughout the County. The District cooperates with Federal agencies in the construction of major projects such as the Carpinteria Watershed Project, as well as smaller channel improvements and storm drains. In addition. District staff provides the design for disaster rehabilitation projects and administers the construction contracts.

The projects are funded primarily through taxes and benefit assessments in each of the flood zones. The District has historically responded to the need for alleviation of flood, erosion and mudflow hazards by allocating a portion of its zone revenues for construction of new flood protection projects. All improvement projects which the District has constructed have been authorize by the Board of Supervisors at public hearings. If the work is to be done in an incorporated city, the appropriate city concurrence and permits must be obtained. In some zones, substantial work remains to be completed before the major flooding and erosion problems can be considered solved. The list of capital projects scheduled for FY 97/98 is also found on this web site.


The District's maintenance and construction activities are reviewed for their environmental impacts in compliance with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements. District maintenance activities are typically regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Regional Water Quality Control Board pursuant to the Clean Water Act, the California Department of Fish and Game pursuant to Section 1601 of CDFG Code as well as the California Coastal Commission, the County of Santa Barbara, the City of Santa Barbara, and the City of Carpinteria pursuant to the Coastal Act and corresponding local coastal plans.

The District collates its maintenance activities into an Annual Routine Maintenance Plan that contains information necessary for regional agency review and greatly streamlines the environmental review and permitting process. Most of the District's routine maintenance activities now receive CEQA review through this plan. A small group of projects require separate CEQA review and permitting. Some other maintenance activities are exempt from CEQA review and do not need special permits.

Hydrologic Data Collection

Collection of hydrologic data plays an important role in all of the District's activities. It provides the basis of design criteria for capital improvement projects, provides thresholds for maintenance activities, and helps in mapping floodplains. In addition, real time rain gage and stream flow gages aid in flood forecasting and in making operational decisions during rainfall events. This information is also transmitted to the National Weather Service for tracking storms and to assist in the issuance of Special Weather Statements (Flash Flood Watches, Warnings, etc.).


Why is there a Benefit Assessment item on my tax bill?
In 1980 the voters of Santa Barbara County, by a 2 to 1 majority, authorized the District to levy an assessment on each parcel in the County for the purpose of financing flood control services performed by the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. The Benefit Assessment shows up on the yearly Secured Tax Statement under "Fixed Charges".

How is the amount of the Benefit Assessment determined?
The assessment is proportional to the benefits received and is determined on the basis of the proportionate stormwater runoff from each parcel. The factors affecting stormwater runoff are:

1. Size: Larger parcels contribute more runoff than smaller ones with the same land surface characteristics.

2. Land Use: Parcels with a greater degree of development (impervious surfaces such as: roofs, driveways, storage or parking areas, etc.) would contribute more runoff than a parcel of the same size with less development.

What if the Benefit Assessment charge seems incorrect ( too high or too low)?
This can happen when the Land Use Code does not accurately reflect the actual stormwater runoff potential or assessment. These parcels typically fall into two categories:

- Parcels for which the land use has changed significantly, but the Land Use Code has not yet been changed.

- Parcels that cannot be characterized by a single land use code due to having several different land surfaces (e.g. roofs, parking, orchards, dry pasture).

In these instances, the District calculates the assessment using the best available data, such as aerial photographs and topography maps. The assessment is then manually calculated in a manner consistent with the intent of the program (i.e. assessment proportional to amount of potential stormwater runoff).