Carpinteria Salt Marsh Infrastructure Improvement Project

Award Period
Award Amount
Agency Name
California Wildlife Conservation Board
Award Number
PI First Name
PI Last Name
Marion Wittmann
MSI People
Area/s of Research
Natural Marine Resources

The University of California Natural Reserve System’s (UC NRS) Carpinteria Salt Marsh

Reserve (CSMR) comprises the central 120-acre portion of the 230-acre Carpinteria Salt Marsh

(Figure 4.A.1).  Representing one of the more pristine coastal salt marshes remaining in southern California, the Reserve includes intertidal estuarine wetlands, adjacent palustrine wetlands and sub-tidal deep water habitat. The Reserve provides critical habitat for a rich assemblage of native plants and animals including several species of special concern. The Reserve serves as a valuable nursery and feeding ground for many species of commercial and recreationally important finfish, and provides an important refuge and feeding ground for many species of migratory birds traversing the Pacific flyway.

Research within the Reserve includes both large research programs funded by state and federal agencies (NSF, NIH, USGS, US National Park Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) as well as numerous graduate student dissertation and thesis projects.  The Reserve is used annually as an outdoor classroom by eight to ten university level courses representing eight university and community college campuses located throughout southern California.  Examples of public use of the Reserve include docent led tours for local K-12 classes and visits by bird watching groups, painters and members of the California Native Plant Society.

The sole avenue of access into the Reserve for all users is the unpaved extension of Estero Road (Figure 4.A.2).As such, this roadway is a vital portion of the Reserve’s infrastructure and supports the Reserve’s missions of research, education and stewardship.  Built in 1945 and extending southward from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, the Estero Road extension effectively bisects the CSMR and creates two separate intertidal basins: Basin II and Basin III*(Figure 4.A.2).  Unlike Basin III which maintains a natural connection to the Pacific Ocean, Basin II is isolated from natural tidal flows by the presence of several large, earthen berms constructed in the early 1970’s for increased flood control.  Movement of ocean water into Basin II occurs from Basin III via six large culverts that run under the Estero Road extension. These culverts are heavily degraded and have begun to collapse under the roadway. Additionally, the sub-tidal channels located on either side of the Estero Road extension have deepened significantly over time and the existing culverts no longer lie on the bottoms of these channels.  Our primary aim is to replace the existing culverts running beneath the Estero Road extension with new 30” HDPE culverts and lower the elevation of these new culverts so that they lie at the same elevation as the channel beds.