Talking Drought to Death

Supervisors Frustrated They Can’t Order More Conservation

If hand wringing produced rain, the county supervisors would have ended the drought this Tuesday afternoon. Many expressed great vexation they lacked the legal authority to order increased conservation at a time when they frequently find themselves challenged to explain why they aren’t doing more. That responsibility, however, lies with individual water agencies.

Especially frustrated was Supervisor Salud Carbajal — now running for Congress — who’s been targeted in attack ads by his opponent, Justin Fareed, for his lack of leadership on water issues. “We’ve been asked, bombarded, insinuated that we should be doing more,” he lamented, “and all we can do is convene and encourage the discussion.” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino highlighted how much water has been released downstream from Lake Cachuma on behalf of the federally endangered steelhead trout — 25,000 acre-feet. That’s how much water all the water agencies combined take out of Cachuma in normal rainfall years.

Those days are over, said Supervisor Doreen Farr, who noted how it took this drought only three years to empty Lake Cachumna, designed to handle a seven-year drought. With increased allocations required for the fish — and an accelerated drought cycle — Farr stated water planners need to budget on significantly less water from Lake Cachuma, even in good years. Desalinated water, said Supervisor Peter Adam, will need to make up much of the slack. Supervisor Janet Wolfe expressed exasperation that water customers were using only 30-40 percent less water, when during the previous drought they used 50 percent less. At the same time, she expressed sympathy for the plight of water agencies, for whom increased conservation meant reduced sales.

At the end, county water czar Tom Fayram was instructed to convene yet another meeting with the heads of all the water agencies drawing water from Lake Cachuma to find cooperative common ground. The vote was unanimous.

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