Lake Cachuma

Paul Wellman

Lake Cachuma

Mega-Drought’ Looms

Zero State Water to Be Delivered

Friday, January 31, 2014
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With Governor Jerry Brown openly ruminating on the possibility California is now in the throes of a “mega-drought,” the Department of Water Resources announced that the State Water Project will not be making any deliveries in the year 2014. That marks the first time ever in the system’s 54-year history that the farmers and urban water customers — 25 million people and 1 million acres — who have come to rely upon state water will get not a drop. Earlier this year, it was announced that the State Water Project would be delivering only 5 percent of contracted allotments to the 29 agencies drawing from the system.

“Obviously it’s a hit,” said Ray Stokes, manager of the Central Coast Water Authority (CCWA), the joint-powers agency responsible for importing state water into Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. “But we were anticipating this and planning accordingly.” That being said, Stokes acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the declaration. “I am not calm and collected,” he confessed.

Although California’s water picture seemed to get somewhat rosier this week after a few feet of snow fell in the Sierras, it still was only 12 percent of normal. At the same time, state hydrologists have declared that 9 percent of the California landmass was experiencing what they termed “extreme drought” — a first in the past 15 years. Long-term water planners are now suggesting the state is in the worst water predicament since the 1880s. Grabbing national headlines is the fact that 17 communities throughout California are now officially without water. Hydro geologists are tossing about the term “mega-drought” in reference to the prospect that California’s water woes might transcend the usual seven-year and 20-year drought cycles that water planners have come to recognize. As if that weren’t enough, some experts are now suggesting that California’s explosive population growth over the past 150 years occurred during an abnormally wet period.

As a hypothetical matter, the Santa Barbara water agencies participating in the State Water Project — all of them except for Lompoc — are contractually entitled to receive up to 45,686 acre-feet of water a year. As a practical matter, however, the system can rarely make good on full delivery. The only time that’s happened since Santa Barbara voters endorsed hooking up to state water back in 1991 was in 2006.

With that in mind, the difference between zero and 5 percent translates to 2,275 acre-feet of water. But for the City of Solvang and the Montecito Water District — the two agencies most dependent upon state water — every little bit would help. Without full delivery, these two agencies will find themselves hard-pressed to get through the coming year without declaring severe emergency conditions. Montecito could go dry as early as this summer.

Of greater strategic importance to local agencies is that the San Joaquin River Delta — the pinch point for deliveries from the state’s north to the south — has been declared utterly impassable. That’s because water levels there have dropped to record lows and salt-water intrusion to record highs. Even so, Stokes is hoping this will change. Should that happen, CCWA would have the physical wherewithal to buy water from rice farmers or water agencies to the north with supplies to spare. That assumes, of course, such willing sellers exist. Under the current drought declared by Governor Brown, Stokes said, any such water wheeling would be restricted to the months of July, August, and September, a time when demand is typically highest and supply lowest.

In past years, the CCWA has banked about 13,680 acre-feet of state water into the vast inland San Luis Reservoir. Because San Luis is located south of the delta, there should be no technical problem delivering that water to Lake Cachuma. Central Valley newspapers have raised concerns that the federal Bureau of Reclamation — which parked water in the same reservoir — might insist its rights to the San Luis reservoir water trump California water agencies doing the same. Stokes has insisted that its water rights are contractually iron-clad and pointed out that CCWA is already pulling 50 acre-feet a water a day out of the San Luis Reservoir and delivering it to Lake Cachuma.

For most South Coast water agencies, state water has been a supplemental water supply. Agencies like Santa Barbara’s, Carpinteria’s, Santa Maria’s and Goleta’s enjoy relatively large underground aquifers, which they can draw down to compensate for the loss of state water and — for the South Coast agencies — for diminished capacity at Lake Cachuma. Thus far, Solvang, Montecito, and the County of Santa Barbara have already issued declarations of a Stage 1 drought, meaning that customers are being asked to cut back consumption by 20 percent. Goleta and Carpinteria have yet to issue similar declarations, and the City of Santa Barbara is scheduled to do so next Tuesday.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

We should be instituting dramatic mandatory rationing now. all lawn watering should be prohibited immediately, and every possible way to conserve water should be implemented. Golfers will have to play on brown lawns.

lbsaltzman (anonymous profile)
January 31, 2014 at 8:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Furthermore, there should not be a single new water meter allowed by any Santa Barbara County water district until we have determined what exactly our long-term and reliable water supply is. We cannot keep cutting this pie into ever smaller slices. Also, we should not have to pay for water we are not getting. I understand that the costs of the state water infrastructure have been incurred and that someone has to pay for those costs, but, as another poster on the Angry Poodle article about this subject observed, you don't pay for pizza that is not delivered. State water has never been a reliable source of water. It was always a developer scam to push growth on the South Coast. We need a Countywide building moratorium until we can figure out how much water we really have. I suspect that we don't have enough for everyone who is already here, much less enough for newcomers.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
January 31, 2014 at 8:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree on a hiatus on water hookups. The land has a carrying capacity and we have clearly exceeded it.

lbsaltzman (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 5:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Bravo to the above comments!!!

I would go further, the State is overpopulated not just our county and all the laws passed by the Legislature that imposed building requirements on the counties be Repealed.

What we need is a building Moratorium State Wide.

Biology 101, as stated by Ibsaltzman, "Land has a carrying capacity and we have clearly exceeded it".

Building in Palmdale/Lancaster, Moreno Valley, Victorville, Coachella Valley etc, were it takes the equivalent of 60" of yearly rainfall for a green lawn is the definition of Insanity and a clear waste of water.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 9:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Death to stack-and-pack and bonus density ordinances, all of which were merely political tools to increase a certain partisan voter base; they were never good planning or policy tools in our state of limited resources.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 9:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How about limitations on the big users - polo fields, etc...

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 10:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Lay off all border agents and ask all the undocuments to bring a jug of Mexican water up with them.
Lake Cachuma will be full in a couple of days and our democrat leaders can go back to doing what their so good at.
Creating social programs that cater to the undocuments, along with tighter regulations, inspections, and penalties for those who proudly flash their documents around!
I call it "patriotism"!

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 10:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

While stopping all building sounds good, the result will be the "Lawyer Full Employment Act of 2014" Every person with an existing valid permit will sue the issuing body for "inverse condemnation" and an "illegal taking" under the US Constitution.

Tigershark (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 11:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

State water project... all the water when you don't want it... none of the water when you really need it.

bcaron (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 12:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Did you know you could replace 'water" with "RDA funds" and "law enforcement" and 'campaigns' and "regulations" and...

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 4:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What is the value of a property with no water? What is the value of a City of Detroit pension if there are no funds or future for the entire city. Sometimes there really is an end to the road. Scarcity will change us. Prudence advised.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 5:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I took my first academic job at UCSB nearly 50 years ago, the first time I had ever lived outside New England. Life took me away after a couple of years; in the mid-80s, I took a job at USC and lived in Topanga Canyon, which was as close to the idyllic Santa Barbara environment as I could find (and afford). But when it came time to retire some 12 years ago, we decided to come home to New England: Southern California (everything from the Gaviota Pass south and east) seemed to us to be running out of breathable air, space on the freeways – and above all, drinkable water.

Sadly, we were all too accurate in our predictions. California people seemed to us to be unable to live with the sense of human limitation that is central to life where we live now. Growth – and, even worse, growth out rather than growth up – is a religion in California. And the chickens have come home to roost. It’s a shame. I still have family and friends out there; it is hard to see a solution to your water crisis that does not involve cataclysmic change. I wish you well.

BlueStater (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 8:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

... blue state!

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2014 at 9:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I hope they've decided to keep Hech Hechy.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 9:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Feb 2014: Sunset Magazine has an excellent article about the West's Best Places to Live.

There are many appealing small towns about the same size as Santa Barbara with much to offer and far more accessible when buying a home.

Good place to start exploring getting out of this area, if it is no longer working for you and replacing it with plenty of other choices that have their own depths and charms that might be a far better fit.

And no, Santa Barbara did not make this list. It didn't need to. But you might be surprised which ones did, with good reasons why.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 11:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ironically, many of those places listed in the Sunset article are in states with drought conditions (even Hawaii):

Warning: The maps @USGS are depressing. There are record (never measured before) levels of drought being recorded throughout CA and the west and south.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 1:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Depends how long they have been "measuring".

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 1:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

See u later foo, can't wait to see u leave!!!

sbreader (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 3:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

no sbreader, foo makes all the rest of us leave out of boredom

DrDan (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 6:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Desalination of the ocean water. Carlsbad, California is building the first one on the West Coast.

zuma7 (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 10:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You're all a bunch of wankers. Never forget that "public" money is no object. If necessary, local officials will have a new desal plant rebuilt and working before above and below ground supplies run out. If "they" blow timing, Nick will tar-n-feather them with words and "they" retire early with highest year salary + 100% health care, paid by tax paying wanker fools, until "they" and or surviving spouse die.

SBLifer (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2014 at 10:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)


For every gallon of drinking water made by desalination you have another gallon of heavy brine to dispose of, dump enough of it back into the ocean and you create major problems, but of course out of sight, out of mind. No free lunch from desalination.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 10:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Bingo, greenvalley. No free lunch anywhere. This is a good operating principle of general application.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 10:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It never ceases to amaze me how some pseudonymed posters can turn any issue into one or more slams on:

◘ Democrats, particularly Lois Capps and Janet Wolf who, although not mentioned here [yet], are a couple of favorite targets;

◘ Immigrants from points south;

◘ Public employees and public employee pensions.

Astounding! Such intellectual acrobatics, with their death-defying twists and reaches of logic, are breath-taking, and perfectly suited for the circus in which they're performed, that circus being the limited-capacity craniums (crania?) of the acrobats.

Now as for water and the looming crisis: I fully agree that a new service hookup moratorium is in order, and overdue. Along with that MUST be a moratorium on new water well drilling, except as may be necessary to avoid or mitigate a real danger to public health. I think that the County Water Agency has the statutory authority to accomplish the latter (well moratorium); service hookup moratoria must be done service provider-by-service provider. The Cities of Goleta and Carpinteria can't impose anything because they don't provide water; rather, it's provided by other public agencies and small quasi-public and private water companies.

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 12:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ever consider it is valid criticism and voter and taxpayer wake-up calls? Nope, didn't think so.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 1:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I have to say, (after watching the OBAMA/ORILEY prime time poopfest) I have to agree with GMohr!
When are all we going to stand up and tell FOX News we're not going to take it anymore!

By the way GM, Capps and the Dems are the illegals and unions...
(You can simply say "the left" and we'll know who your talking about. :)

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 2:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hard to see your main man perform so badly, no teleprompter, mumbles, evasions and all. But that was a mutual exercise in incoherence so don't take is so seriously. No one looked good in that silly exercise of chest-beating.

Since the Left controls everything but FOX news, what exactly are you proposing. Total control, censorship, dictatorship. The give and take of partisan politics should not make you so uncomfortable.

However, your implied solutions do make the rest of us uncomfortable, so go ahead and run with it for whatever energy you want to put into the above suggestions.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 3:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Wasn't this article about a shortage of state water due to drought?

GluteousMaximus (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 4:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So, cry me a river.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 4:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Foo's become like the loud drunk at the restaurant bar, has to outshout everybody and be the center of attention. It truly is pathetic and adds nothing to the discourse.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 9:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ironic, when the drought hits, real estate will be "under water."

native2sb (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2014 at 11:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How about our board of supervisors recent approval of Santa Maria Energy's cyclic steam oil project ? 300,000 gallons of water a day down the hole. Now they are gearing up for major drilling right acquisitions with their eye toward massive expansion way beyond existing operations. This is is one of the least efficient methods of oil extraction , wastes humongous amount of water and energy , all for a few ill begotten bucks. Wake up Santa Barbara Co. voters & hold your supervisors accountable.

geeber (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2014 at 3:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Just so everyone knows, our Board of Supervisors approved today a two mansion project on the Gaviota Coast that has permission to use 30 acre feet of Goleta water a year. Of course the LA developer promises to use drought tolerant plants and low flow toilets. Sure, wink, wink. Is it time to recall our pro-growth Supervisors?

dontoasthecoast (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2014 at 4:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

RECALL Salud! sold out to the monied interests...look at his game with the freeway widening

DrDan (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2014 at 5:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DD: Why don't you consider Salud selling out to the public employee unions also selling out to the "monied interests". They spend more concentrated PAC money that anyone.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2014 at 5:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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