SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

Santa Barbara County wants to know how much water is in Lake Cachuma, as soon as possible.  Depth testing will take place as part of on going studies to come up with a plan during the current drought.

Deputy Public Works Director Tom Fayram says the water use this month is about double what customers needed last year.  That's a serious concern.   He says because there's been no rain since early December, more watering is taking place. In addition, there's been down stream releases under agreements with other users, and releases to protect endangered species.

"If we don't get rain, conservation is going to be our only answer. That is why the county's message is we want an immediately  20 percent reduction," said Fayram.

He also said it would take possibly 15 inches of rain to start a substantial runoff.

Then, another big series of storms to start refilling Lake Cachuma and Gibraltar Dam.

Another worry is the lake level, which has fallen off substantially and is now nearly below the opening that feeds the Tecolote Tunnel to the users from Goleta to Carpinteria.    If the lake level drops further, by September special pumps will have to be installed to draw the water up to the tunnel.

Fayram is optimistic the plans in place will be helpful, but he says it could take more than one year to get supplies back up.  He says confidently the wet weather cycle will return. "It's gonna rain. Cachuma is going to fill. We will be at the dam watching it spilling, and that's a matter of time," he said. "The problem is we are running out of time  and if this drought and weather conditions persist we're gonna have a problem."

The most severe impacts from the drought in the early '90's was averted when a big rainfall came down in March of 1991.  That bought the county some time, because 1992 was also a dry year before a deluge came into the watershed in 1993.

In the driest years, during that drought, Santa Barbara County did not have many other resources. The State Water pipeline connection to the coast had not been installed. Water users also quickly learned the value of low flow shower heads, and low water use toilets, to reduce their consumption and water bills.