SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - California's drought appears to be over, until you see an official map that shows Santa Barbara County is still one area of concern. It is better than two years ago, but still not completely out.
Local water officials already knew that but multiple plans are in place to produce and conserve water in case the rainfall totals fall behind as they did for a five year stretch recently. That threw the biggest water fear into the South Coast anyone had seen in decades.
Santa Barbara Water Manager Joshua Haggmark reported to the city leaders this week, however, some "remarkable" figures on conservation. He said in the month of August, residents showed a water use reduction of 45 percent. The city's monthly goal is 30 percent. For the last 12 months the water saving average is 40 percent.
Santa Barbara has a multi-tiered water plan using sources including, Cachuma Lake, Gibraltar reservoir, underground wells, ocean water desalination, reclaimed water and conservation.
To some extent the change in water rates has also impacted water use.
The new water year for the U.S. Geological Survey begins today.
Even though state water and other deliveries are coming into Cachuma, an annual water release for downstream users will continue until the end of the month. Many residents in the Santa Ynez Valley see the river flowing in Solvang, Buellton and out to Lompoc. It recharges underground agricultural and municipal systems. The water release agreement was worked out when Bradbury dam was built in the 1950's.
With water coming in and going out, the lake level is still dropping and it's currently under 40 percent of its overall capacity. At the bottom level, about seven percent is not usable, leaving the figure in the low 30's.
City water users have changed their habits since the last big drought in the early 1990's. Haggmark says even though the population has grown about 5000 the monthly usage shows a draw down on the system that is less than the prior drought. He said the growth doesn't mean more water usage.
Looming over Cachuma Lake's upcoming winter season is the ash covered hillsides from the Whittier Fire that burned about 29 square miles of land starting July 8. One of the sides of the fire is in the direct water shed that heads into the lake. Efforts to keep sediment from getting into the water source or Highway 154 have not been clearly laid out. Several agencies are involved including Santa Barbara County, the Bureau of Reclamation, The U.S. Forest Service. and State Department of Transportation.
A request from Santa Barbara for $2 million for projects to deal with the ash impacts, has been rejected by the forest service.
Santa Barbara says it has the Lauro Reservoir in the upper San Roque area that can supply local water "for several weeks" if the lake is stirred up with sediment, until the water is settled down. It is delivered to the city through the Tecelote tunnel.