Op-Ed: The Ring Nets in Montecito Canyons Are Coming Down

The cleared ring net at the upper San Ysidro Creek (Photo: Project for Resilient Communities)

By Pat McElroy, Brett Matthews, Joe Cole, Elisabeth Fowler, Damon Taugher, Alixe Mattingly, and Hillary Hauser with the Project for Resilient Communities

It is with great disappointment to inform you that when the five-year emergency permits expire, the Project for Resilient Communities will need to remove the six debris flow “Swiss nets” in the canyons above Montecito by December 1.

Without strong local government support and budget for the six nets that may have to be cleaned out, without a guarantee that FEMA would cover those future costs, our small nonprofit cannot carry the risk associated with running a portion of a flood control system.

We feel strongly that the nets are an innovative approach to augmenting the existing Flood Control program and had hoped that the County would and could take over management of the nets going forward (monitoring and cleaning), but we are too far apart to come to an agreement in the sliver of time left for us to meet the conditions of our permits.

Our goal from the beginning of this public-private partnership was to create the most cutting-edge and innovative system possible to enhance our community’s resiliency, funded entirely by private contributions, and then to efficiently transfer these important community assets to local, state, and regional authorities as part of the County’s safety and public works system to help ensure the protection of our community. The extension of the permits and the county accepting the debris flow protection system of six nets as part of the system was always paramount.  

To now remove the nets is a most difficult decision, reached only after many months of good faith effort and discussion, but we have been unable to reach an agreement with the County, and we cannot continue to rely on private donations from the community to sustain this work.

The changing climate has increased the high probability of increases in the frequency of the fire/flood cycle that is a feature of life in our county. We must keep planning, and not forgetting, that we have a responsibility to be resilient in our communities, to face the challenges that are surely coming, and to do all we can to lessen the impact. We will continue our effort to support the county in any and all ways going forward. And we feel confident in the county’s existing flood-control basins and manpower, and knowing that much has been learned over the last five years.

The nets initiative could not have happened without a supportive and resilient community and brilliant people coming together. From conception to installation to a proven mitigation solution, the debris basin nets were a worthy initiative and the mission was accomplished.

We are humbled by the incredible collaboration and coordination over the last five years, of every person, expert, donor, and public agency involved, as well as the leadership of some of our elected officials. We together created an historic achievement in a highly protected environment and the The Project for Resilient Communities playbook will continue to serve communities nationwide.

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  1. It would have been interesting to know what the County was offering. Presumably, these were public funds and shouldn’t the amounts have been made public!? Understandable that a small local non-profit that generously provided for five years of protection could not take the risk of a potentially huge donation that would be, probably, on-going. It is disturbing that our/COUNTY government, the District 1 representative Williams, chose not to provide on-going information for all of us to understand the issues and choices.

  2. Climatologists are saying that we may have one of the strongest El Niños in 20 years in the next couple of months and they want to tear this down before, that’s just logically irresponsible. It’s true these nets protect a small swath of homes, however the flow path has the ability to impact passages for the community as a whole including the 101 freeway. The financial impact should another event occur on the scale of what we saw in the past would far outweigh any preventative maintenance costs. It truly doesn’t make sense. At a minimum just leave it alone, something is better then nothing.

  3. If you saw the news last week you see you have to go into each site by helicopter. Not cost effective at all. I saw they spent $1.2 Million for 1 net, which did not have that much material. In addition, that material was not removed, just spread around and is still up there.

  4. Ridiculous, simpering letter. This organization did very little to clear the ring nets of debris, which they quickly accumulated after every rain event – small or large – over the last year. There is very little actual scientific validity to their claims, and no proof that the ring nets would even prevent the sort of damage that happened during the mudflows after the Thomas Fire.

    The nets also blocked streams and tributaries, and negatively effected local wildlife and habitats. Good riddance.

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