The ephemeral Santa Clara River delivers large amounts of freshwater and sediment to the eastern Santa Barbara Channel during brief, episodic discharge events. This discharge into the channel was characterized here with shipboard measurements during floods of 1997 and 1998. Within approximately 1-km of the river mouth, the river discharge quickly stratifies into a freshened, turbid surface plume and a bottom nephloid layer. Observations immediately off the Santa Clara River mouth on a peak day of river discharge revealed that sediment rapidly settled from the freshened surface waters, as suspended sediment in the freshened surface plume contained only ???6% of the sediment mass expected if the sediment mixed conservatively. On the two subsequent days the reduction of sediment mass in the surface plume continued at ???50% per day. These observations suggest that river sediment undergoes rapid initial settling within ???1-km of the river mouth, followed by somewhat slower rates of settling. Although we did not measure sedimentation or bottom boundary layer processes, our mass balance results suggest that almost all of the river sediment either escapes along or deposits upon the inner shelf seabed.