As Cachuma Lake rises, landmarks including the old bridge become submerged once again.
Benno Spingler

With the reservoir at Lake Cachuma now half full thanks to winter rains, deliveries to the South Coast water agencies have started back up for the first time in two years. Water managers are hedging their bets, however, against the prospect of more dry years; they’re taking 40 percent of normal deliveries over the next six months and another 40 percent for the six months after that.

Of the 97,000 acre-feet in the reservoir, about 22,000 are being set aside for human consumption. That’s slightly less than what’s taken out of the dam in a normal year. Of the rest, the biggest chunk will offset water lost to evaporation ​— ​about 25,000 acre-feet; about 9,000 acre-feet is being set aside for steelhead recovery efforts, and 12,000 to restore the dead pool, the minimal amount needed to maintain the lake on ecological life support.

But even amid the bounty of this year’s heavy rains, there are painful complications. For example, Santa Barbara County water agencies had about 30,000 acre-feet of state water stored in the Los Banos Reservoir, which flooded during this winter’s storms. As a result, two-thirds of that stored water was lost.

In addition, federal officials ordered water released from Cachuma to restore steelhead habitat downstream. Because the same pipes that are used to release fish water are also used to import state water, no state water deliveries have been made to Cachuma since March 27. At 44 acre-feet a day, that adds up. That issue, however, should be rectified in the next several weeks.


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