While Santa Barbara has experienced only small amounts of sea level rise to date, the rate of sea level rise in the region is projected to accelerate significantly in upcoming years. Over time this will result in beach loss, increased bluff erosion, increased groundwater levels along the coast, and intensified tidal and storm flooding in the low-lying areas of the City. Additionally, changes in rainfall patterns related to climate change are increasing the frequency and severity of flooding of the City’s creeks and storm water system. View Sea Level Rise Hazard Maps. 

The City has completed several major adaptation efforts in order to prepare the City for increased flooding and erosion. Specifically:  

  • In 2015, the Goleta Slough Management Committee completed the Goleta Slough Area Sea Level Rise and Management Plan, which analyzes vulnerabilities and potential adaptation options for the Goleta Slough area including the Airport;  

  • In 2018, a Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment was completed for the City;  

  • In 2019, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) and Council certified a comprehensive update to the City of Santa Barbara Coastal Land Use Plan that factors sea-level rise into development review standards; and  

  • In 2021, Council adopted a City of Santa Barbara Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan that recommends a phased approach to planning for sea-level rise, based on monitoring of changing conditions and taking actions to reduce vulnerabilities once defined thresholds are reached. Forty-two actions are designated as high priority to start in the next five years, with eight of these considered the highest priority to initiate as soon as possible.  

Since 2021, the City has launched four major climate adaptation projects that are funded through grant funds from the California Coastal Commission and the California State Coastal Conservancy: 

Regional Coastal Adaptation Monitoring Program 

The City has partnered with Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON), a joint power authority with member agencies from the coastal cities and counties between Point Mugu and Point Conception, on the development of a regional shoreline monitoring program. This monitoring program is key to implementing the City’s Adaptation Program with a data-driven approach, including tracking how soon actions are needed and the effectiveness of adaption projects as they are implemented. A draft monitoring plan will be available for public review in the Summer of 2024. 

Wastewater and Water Systems Climate Adaptation Plan  

This plan will evaluate vulnerabilities of the City’s wastewater and water infrastructure from sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns, and rising groundwater levels. It will identify alternatives for relocating, flood-proofing, and/or hardening of major sewer mains and water lines currently located under the beach and in the sea level rise area. The plan will primarily focus on impacts in the next 30 years in detail but will also consider mid- and long-term options and thresholds for action for El Estero Water Resource Center and other portions of the wastewater and water systems. A draft report is projected to be released for public review in Fall of 2024. 

30-Year Waterfront Adaptation Plan 

This will be a shoreline masterplan to prepare the Waterfront for increased storm surges, erosion, rising groundwater, and flooding from both sea-level rise and changes in rainfall patterns from climate change, while continuing to provide critical services, coastal dependent boating uses, recreation, and beach access for the next 30 years. The Waterfront is already at risk of flooding, storm surge, and erosion during coastal storm events that will become exacerbated with even small amounts of sea-level rise. Some of the adaptation measures the plan will consider are raising or modifying the Harbor breakwater and groins, flood protection measures for the Harbor Commercial area, and realignment of portions of the beach multiuse path. This project will be launched in Spring of 2024.   

Airport and Goleta Slough Climate Adaptation Project 

This project includes an infrastructure vulnerability assessment, sea level rise adaptation plan, and local coastal program update for the Airport. The project also evaluates increased flooding from changes in rainfall patterns.