The much anticipated El Niño rains — dubbed “Godzilla” by meteorologists — left Santa Barbara and the rest of Southern California high and dry, and was effectively deterred from any significant deposits by a high pressure system known as “The Blob.” Although Santa Barbara has received 72 percent its annual average rainfall thus far this year, Lake Cachuma — the single biggest water supply for 200,000 South Coast residents — got no runoff. “In terms of new water, it was zero,” lamented county water czar Tom Fayram.
The volume of water left in Lake Cachuma is either “carryover” water that was not used the previous year because of conservation efforts or “dead pool” water, the absolute minimum that federal rules require be kept in the lake. The only new supplies coming into Cachuma at this point are deliveries from the state water system. In scorching heat, those deliveries barely keep pace with evaporation. Joshua Haggmark, water czar for the City of Santa Barbara, said he expects the carryover water to be used up by this coming October, about the time the city’s new desalination plant is scheduled to begin operations. “This is officially the driest five years on record for Santa Barbara County,” Haggmark said.
If water customers continue achieving 35 percent conservation rates — soon to be adopted by City Hall as Santa Barbara’s required goal — Haggmark said the city should make it through the summer. Conservation gets tougher during the hotter summer months, however, when trees, lawns, and landscaping are more dependent upon irrigation. Lake Cachuma is currently at 15 percent capacity but less than half of that is available for use. And City Hall’s backup reservoir — at Gibraltar — got only half its annual average.