Cachuma Lake at 39 percent capacity (Jan. 9, 2014)
Paul Wellman

By now we’ve all heard the news: The drought is here, and it is very real.

The governor has declared a drought emergency across the state. He has asked that we all reduce our water use by about 20 percent. About 99 percent of the state is abnormally dry or worse; almost two-thirds of the state is in extreme drought. There are at least 10 communities that may run out of water in the the next two months.

California’s water supplies have dipped to alarmingly low levels. Here’s what we know: The snowpack in California’s mountains is approximately 20 percent of the normal average for this part of the year.

California’s largest water reservoirs have very low water levels; California’s major river systems, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, have significantly reduced surface water flows, and groundwater levels throughout the state have fallen tremendously.

It gets worse.

The dry conditions and lack of rainfall and snow present major problems with our drinking water supplies, putting many California communities at risk. In addition, farmers can cultivate few crops, which put jobs at risk, many of which are in low-income communities heavily dependent on agricultural employment.

The governor has also talked about how the low water amounts in rivers can affect species in danger of extinction or that are threatened. And of course, a lack of precipitation leads to wildfire risks.

Locally the situation is not much better. The County of Santa Barbara has declared a water emergency. Lake Cachuma is at 40 percent capacity. The City of Santa Barbara is also asking residents to reduce consumption by 20 percent. In Montecito, there’s a fear that residents will run out of water by the summer.

In Ventura, residents are also being asked to dramatically cut water use. The water level of the Ventura River, a primary water supply during the rainy season, is very low and continues to drop. A number of groundwater wells have required urgent maintenance which is limiting our water supply operations.

Ventura’s other water supply, Lake Casitas, is at 60 percent, and we have been alerted that if the Lake drops to 50 percent, the Casitas Municipal Water District (operator of Lake Casitas) will begin allocating water. Without rain, this may happen in August or September.

Recently, lawmakers in Sacramento backed a $687.4 million emergency drought relief package to free up the state’s water supplies and help residents who face hardship due to the drought.

Please consider replacing your toilets and other appliances that may use too much water or leak, take shorter showers, and don’t let water run from your faucets for long periods of time.

Finally, and most critically, the largest sum of water consumption occurs outdoors, so consider watering less, setting up a drip or efficient sprinkler system, use mulch, and plant drought-tolerant plants.

The City of Ventura offer water wise, landscaping, and turf-alternative classes.

The City of Santa Barbara has a great landscape rebate program, which offers rebates on approved irrigation equipment and landscape materials. Any combination of irrigation equipment and planting costs may qualify for a onetime rebate of up to $1,000 for single-family homes and up to $4,000 for commercial, multi-family, and HOAs.

I urge everyone to take the drought threat seriously. Every little bit counts.

Here are some other useful resources for understanding how to reduce your water consumption.


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