Water rules in Santa Barbara may change after wet winter

Drought concerns still serious

Water rules could change in Santa Barbara after two wet months

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With a wet winter in Santa Barbara soaking the drought dry region, conditions have improved and local officials are considering a plan to ease on part of its strict water use rules.

That decision is expected later this month or in April, but nothing widespread is expected.   The first sign of a change came Tuesday at the city council meeting when Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark said the ban on lawn watering that just began could be discontinued in the next couple of months.

Conservation is still a citywide priority because water supplies have not fully recovered and years of lower than normal rainfall could still occur.

For most customers, lawn watering has not occurred in weeks because of the regular cycle of rain that has come through.

The city's supplies have a mixed report at this stage.

Gibraltar Reservoir is over flowing with water into the Santa Ynez River towards Cachuma Lake.  That dam however, is about 75 percent full of silt from years of watershed runoff and a recent wildland fire in the area.   The capacity is possibly going to drop another 10 percent this year.

Cachuma Lake is up to nearly 50 percent of its capacity and it hasn't seen that level in about three years.

Much of that water is accounted for with agreements that will direct supplies to downstream farmers, environmental obligations for fish species, and front country water districts.  There is also a loss to evaporation that is factored in.

Groundwater supplies in Santa Barbara have been stressed by the drought and are at historic low levels. Those wells are now going to be used less.

In April, with no specific date set yet, the desalination plant on Yanonali Street will be injecting a new water supply into the system after a $60-million agreement to rebuild and start a plant that was shut down in the early 1990's.

A full report on water supplies and possible changes to the drought rules is expected to be made later this month.


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