The recent rainfall in Santa Barbara County has been most welcome but it has not been nearly enough to end the drought. This winter remains among the three driest winters in 100 years of rainfall record-keeping in the County. This dry winter is the third dry winter in a row, with 2013 having been the driest calendar year on record across most of California. As of March 3, 2014, rainfall this winter is only 46% of the County-wide average for this time of year. However, that percentage varies across the County, with some areas such as Santa Maria still experiencing their driest winter on record. Even in years when seasonal rainfall is “average”, the rain is not enough to produce significant runoff to area reservoirs. Several storms such as the one just experienced would be required to replenish area supplies. According to County Public Works Director Scott McGolpin, “The primary benefit from such storms is to reduce water use by allowing residents and growers to stop irrigating. It also prepares the soil for future runoff and recharge of groundwater”.
After the recent rains the water volume in Lake Cachuma has risen by only one foot because the dry soils have absorbed most of the rain with very little inflow to the lake. The reservoir is fifty feet below being full, and it is now at 39.6% of capacity. At smaller reservoirs such as Gibraltar, serving the City of Santa Barbara, the water level is at 32%, and at Jameson, serving Montecito, it is 30%. Detailed information on reservoir status and rainfall can be found at the County Hydrology webpage at: http://www.countyofsb.org/pwd/pwwater.aspx?id=3772.
Across the County, each community’s water supply mix is different, resulting in highly variable water supply conditions. Nevertheless, water conservation is encouraged County-wide. The Santa Barbara County Water Resources Director, Tom Fayram, emphasized the importance of voluntary water conservation, saying “We should look at conservation as providing yet another source of water. It’s always a vital component of water management, but at times like these, we strongly urge conservation by all water users in the County, including those who rely on their own well water.” Information and ideas for being more water wise can be found online at www.WaterWiseSB.org, a regional water conservation website sponsored by the Network of Santa Barbara County Water Providers.