County officials organize plans to prevent further damage to beach
Local officials are discussing what can be done to preserve the future of Goleta Beach Park as a rise in sea-level and erosion threatens to push the coastline inward and damage infrastructure over the next few decades.
Santa Barbara County Parks Division, in conjunction with Caltrans, is working to create an adaptive management plan that will address erosion threats to Goleta Beach Park and its surrounding infrastructure for the years to come. The county held a public meeting last week to discuss the plan’s development and receive public feedback.
With more than 1.5 million visitors each year, the Goleta Beach Park is a key coastal access point for many low-income families and minority communities, Marie Laule, county consultant from Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, said.
“Goleta Beach plays an important role in recreational, environmental and social equity values,” Ms. Laule said, later adding that the county’s objective is to maintain the recreation resources at the park for years to come.
A combination of extended drought, severe storms and rising sea levels have contributed to the erosion at the Goleta Beach coast. The historic drought that lasted from 2011 to 2019 largely eliminated natural nourishment and sediment flow to the beach for eight years. These conditions, compounded with severe storms between 2014 and 2017, caused beach erosion between 100 to 180 feet and damaged the park and its facilities.
The erosion has made Goleta Beach Park much narrower than it once was. Without a sand barrier for protection, key infrastructure around the beach, like State Route 217 and Goleta Sanitary Districts’ sewer outfall pipe, could be in jeopardy.
In an effort to protect the beach from further damage, the county installed rock revetments at Goleta Beach park in 2017 to prevent further erosion. Moving forward, the county is now working to create a long-term adaptive management plan through 2050 and 2100 that will use sea-level rise data from Noble research to inform its decision making.
As part of the tentative plan for 2050, the county is considering retaining rock revetments for the next 30 years, pursuing landward relocation for major infrastructure near Goleta Beach Park and pursuing sand retention and beach nourishment measures. Since the plan is adaptive, Ms. Laule emphasized that plans may change as new data is discovered.
“The decisions we make in the near term play a crucial role in determining what our suite of options are for long-term management,” Ms. Laule said.
In her presentation, Ms. Laule said studies have proven that the revetments are the most effective way to prevent beach erosion, however, a number of event attendees voiced disagreement. A number of commenters argued that revetments have long-term impacts on the environment, and therefore, should not be a viable solution.
“Rock revetments do cause impacts to the beach and to the habitat, as well as public access,” Brian Trautwein, environmental analyst at the Environmental Defense Center, said during the Q&A session. “Various experts have commented on this over the years and demonstrated that these impacts do occur. They’re real. They cause impacts to the beach width and to the biology of the area.”
Paul Alessio, a UCSB geologist and coastal researcher, echoed a similar sentiment and urged the county to consider the use of cobble berms at Goleta Beach, a solution he said would be more effective and ecological.
“I just got to say that I think a cobble berm at Goleta Beach would be a potential solution. It’s a solution that a lot of people are using and using effectively and even at Goleta beach now,” Mr. Alessio said. “The (cobble berm) has survived the most recent winter swells.”
Looking towards 2100, the county is considering various possibilities, like reinforcing the revetment to protect the park in its current state, relocating the park onto a pier, enforcing a managed retreat to remove half the park or relocating the park to another point on the coast. For the time, Ms. Laule expressed that these ideas are simply considerations and options for 80 years in the future.
Still, event attendees had their reservations about the county’s tentative plans.
“I think it’s really oversimplifying to say that we have over 80 years that we can maintain Goleta Beach the way it is — I just don’t believe that,” Rachel Couch, a project manager at State Coastal Conservancy, said. “I think we have to plan for the interim, and revetments are not the total answer.”
The county plans to take public concerns into consideration while drafting the adaptive management plan, which is expected to release its first public draft in the spring. County officials are hopeful the final draft of the plan can be completed by the summer.
Officials are seeking additional input through the Goleta Beach Visitor Survey. To view the survey in English, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/goletabeachsurvey. To view the survey in Spanish, visit https://es.surveymonkey.com/r/goletabeachencuesta.