Although Santa Barbara is now officially only two years into the current drought, Gibraltar Reservoir will probably go dry sometime this summer, said City Hall water czar Rebecca Bjork. Gibraltar, which provides only an ancillary supply, has not gone dry since the major drought of 1990-1991. Lake Cachuma — the major water supply for all South Coast water agencies — is expected to dip below the halfway level sometime this summer, as well, which will trigger an automatic 20 percent reduction in deliveries to all water agencies. That would not trigger an immediate reduction in service to customers, cautioned Bjork, who explained that would not be envisioned until the fourth year of the drought, should it last that long.
Bjork noted that City Hall’s water plans run in six-year increments and that it’s too soon to cut back deliveries. Still, this year’s rainfall to date has been only 9.4 inches, far less than the 17.87 inches that the city, on average, would have received by this time. The city’s groundwater basins are healthy, Bjork said, and her department has contracted with water agencies throughout the state to store its unused allotment from the State Water Project in reservoirs elsewhere. But, she said, “I still get nervous.”
For Tom Mosby, the manager of the Montecito Water District, the circumstances are more dire. Montecito has no groundwater basins to speak of, and many of the shallow wells, drilled by private property owners to irrigate their lawns, have gone dry. “If we don’t get rain next year, we’re in serious trouble,” Mosby declared. He said Montecito’s two reservoirs have not been recharged for the past two years, meaning the district’s safe yield has dropped by nearly 2,000 acre-feet a year. For a small district like Montecito, that’s huge. Were it not for State Water, Mosby said, Montecito would already be experiencing serious shortfalls. He added that later this summer, he’ll be seeking a major increase in water rates — 16 percent the first year and 7.5 percent for the four subsequent years — to cover the cost of major capital improvements.
For the time being, the sudden onset of the South Coast’s fabled “June Gloom” offers the opportunity for temporary relief. With lower temperatures and more ambient moisture, the demand for water should drop. “That’s assuming people pay attention to the weather and adjust accordingly,” cautioned Santa Barbara’s Bjork. “And I’m not sure how much they actually do.”