Santa Barbara City residents have cut back water consumption by 35 percent since 2013, exceeding the state-imposed goal of 25 percent in response to the hottest, driest, fastest drought in recorded California history. As impressive as those numbers appear, city water czar Joshua Haggmark warned the City Council Tuesday that the reservoir at Lake Cachuma has dropped eight feet in the last month, and its spill elevation has plunged 80 feet since 2011. Cachuma is currently at just 17.5 percent of its total carrying capacity, and the water agencies drawing from it have grown increasingly mistrustful that the others are taking more water than they’re entitled to. Tracking the amount of water delivered to each agency, Haggmark said, has become “a very hot issue.” The city’s Lake Gibraltar Reservoir — nearly silted up — is only 18 inches deep.
All this was shown in gory detail to the councilmembers courtesy of aerial video taken with a drone. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss asked Mayor Helene Schneider if she could get Governor Jerry Brown to visit Santa Barbara to give the city an award for reducing water consumption more than any other city in California. Schneider replied, “I’m sure he’ll love an invitation to Santa Barbara.” (It’s not clear Santa Barbara really is number one when it comes to conservation, said Haggmark, but it’s clearly high on the list.) In the meantime, demolition crews began smashing and removing remnants of the old desalination plant — built 20 years ago — that can’t be fit into the new plant scheduled to begin producing water next September