LA District commander tour of the California coast

Reaching out to the coastal communities in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District commander Col. Julie Balten and her team recently met with local officials along California’s “Gold Coast” — from Channel Islands to Morro Bay.

Photo courtesy of USACE

The outreach to the Corps’ partners was to review dredging, harbor and beach projects supported by Corps’ Los Angeles District.


The journey began May 22 at an office visit on the water’s edge with Channel Islands Harbor District at Oxnard, California. Channel Islands is the fifth largest harbor for small-craft recreation in the state.

The harbor was formed in 1960 by the Corps, which continues a long partnership with the community to regularly dredge and maintain its channels.

Most recently, the LA District, along with its contractor, Connolly Pacific, conducted repairs in 2021 to two parallel entrance jetties and the protective offshore breakwater near the harbor entrance.


Departing Channel Islands, the team met at Ventura Beach to meet with representatives of Ventura Harbor.

Victor Andreas, LA District project manager, who has been engineering coastal navigation solutions for five years, said that dredging material from Ventura Harbor not only helps navigation, but that material also is used to replenish beaches south of Port Hueneme, home to a major U.S. Navy port.

Ventura Harbor is dredged every two years, with the next dredging cycle scheduled for September 2024.

The 2022 dredging cycle went “very smoothly,” according to the City of Ventura, and the sand that annually accumulates in the entrance of the harbor replenished beaches to the south of it, which also assisted with maintaining crucial habitat near the Santa Clara River.


On the morning of May 23, under a heavy coastal marine layer, the team met with Carpinteria city officials at low tide on its freshly groomed beach.

Rock cobble was washed downstream from creeks into the Pacific and required maintenance following big winter storms. The beach had been leveled, raked and cleared of rocks that were deposited at one point that stood out on the otherwise smooth shoreline.

Matt Roberts, director of the Carpinteria Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities, explained how the beach is protected by debris basins, set up along the coast in the 1970s, after a major storm in 1969. The basins are maintained by digging them out and exporting the sediment to upland disposal sites.


The final meeting of the day in Santa Barbara included a harbor patrol cruise to see the all-electric cutter-head suction dredge Sandpiper, dredging sediment from the federal navigation channels at Santa Barbara Harbor.

The busy harbor is dredged to a depth of 35 feet in six sessions biannually in the spring and fall, removing about 120,000 cubic yards of sediment per cycle. According to the city, annual dredging began in 1972, but shoaling and sediment collection at the bottom of the harbor can be traced back to the late 1920s.

The LA District, along with its contractor, Pacific Dredge & Construction, conducted emergency dredging to remove more than 30,000 cubic yards of sand from the harbor entrance in January to restore full access of the channel. Emergency dredging was necessary after excess sand entered the harbor from winter storms.

During the current dredging cycle, about another 150,000 cubic yards of material is expected to be removed. The dredge material is then placed on down-coast beaches.


On May 24, Balten and Dwyer joined Brian Kim, a project manager with the district’s Navigation Branch, to meet with leaders from the Port San Luis Harbor District, which oversees the small-craft harbor near the coastal community of Avila Beach and sits about 10 miles from San Luis Obispo.

The LA District is managing a project to repair the port’s breakwater, which was originally constructed between 1889 and 1913 to protect the harbor and its small-craft marine facilities from heavy surf and waves. The breakwater, which has undergone repairs and maintenance previously in its 110-year history, was damaged during an earthquake about 10 years ago.


The group met later that day with officials from the City of Morro Bay, which is partnering with the LA District on the ongoing dredging project at the bay’s entrance and Navy channels using the Portland District’s U.S. Army Vessel Yaquina hopper dredge.

“It was great to see that active dredge project in person,” Balten said. “Not everything we do may always look exciting, but you know what they’re doing is critical. It was just another great opportunity to see our work in action, to really understand the benefits of those projects and to talk about future projects and future cycles of these continuous projects that we do on an annual basis.”


For the last stop of the tour, Buxton joined Balten again in Santa Barbara, this time to meet with partners with the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

The two LA District leaders discussed current projects and challenges, such as possible assistance with recent flooding in nearby Guadalupe and the resulting divergence of the Santa Maria River, potential work on the Santa Maria Levy and the way forward on the lower Mission Creek project that runs through the heart of Santa Barbara.