For my coworkers and I, October means having a moment to breathe after a busy September and the Avocado Festival and getting ready for what passes for winter on our little slice of coastline. In California, over 90 percent of precipitation falls between Oct. 1 and April 30, but on the Central Coast it tends to be limited to the end of October through mid-March. Part of the preparation happens during Coastal Cleanup Day, when volunteers help clean our creeks and beaches of trash before the “first flush” that comes with the initial rain of the season.
Drainage in Southern California was built around getting storm water to the ocean quickly, but we now know that slowing down these flows and encouraging water to soak into the groundwater basin is preferable. In recent years, the State Water Quality Control Board has changed development requirements to address changing landscapes. As we developed the land, we created more impervious (paved) surfaces, which allowed water to flow more quickly across the land and to the ocean, but newer development standards encourage retaining that water on site to allow it to percolate into the soil. In Carpinteria, where most development happened years ago, prepping for winter storms means thinking about how water runs across our properties.
In preparation for the rainy season, there are many things we can do at our homes and businesses to reduce impacts of heavy rains. Mulching is an easy fix for bare soil. Mulch will help slow the flow of water and reduce impacts of erosion, allowing water to soak into the ground instead of running off. Maybe you have been thinking about redoing your yard with drought tolerant plants but don’t have the time right now, or it isn’t currently in your budget. Spreading mulch is an affordable and easy first step, as the mulch will help soil recover over the winter and soften the ground for spring plantings. Sandbags also help in areas that are prone to flooding. Because the bigger storm events tend to be fast moving and we live in an area prone to flash flooding, many of us have experienced the quick rise of water along a side yard that doesn’t drain properly. Where I live, we have clay soils and a sloped back yard that turns into a small pond during those rains. Strategically placed sandbags help move that runoff away from the house. Sandbags are available many places—in Carpinteria, you can pick them up at the Public Works yard free of charge.
Clearing properties of any improperly stored materials is another important step in getting things ready for winter. Paints, oils and other materials that are considered hazardous to the environment should be properly stored at all times of the year, but especially before winter. Businesses that handle hazardous materials should have a plan for how to store and dispose of them, and residents can bring paint, batteries, oil, antifreeze, small household electronics and fluorescent bulbs to the city’s disposal on the second and fourth Saturday of the month.
Making sure your drainage systems are cleared out also helps reduce the risk of flooding. Many properties have historic drainage channels that are the responsibility of the property owner. Clearing any debris that may have accumulated, such as tree branches and leaves, will allow water to flow through those channels and into the connecting creek, flood control facility or storm drain system.
Winter storms can take us by surprise with their intensity, especially when combined with high tides. It is important to take steps now to be prepared for winter rains. Sandbags and mulch are available for free at Carpinteria City Hall to residents, and there are low-cost options for mulch delivery. Being ready for rain in advance means we can enjoy it when it does come!