Drought Watch: ‘Far from Over’

City, County Water Agencies Spar Over Cachuma Contract

City water directors Josh Haggmark and Kelley Dyer
Paul Wellman (file)

Members of the Santa Barbara City Council were notified in no uncertain terms by assistant water director Kelley Dyer that the recent drought is “much improved, but far from over.” Thanks to this year’s Presdidents’ Day weekend rain, Lake Cachuma is now 50 percent full, she said. But without that one intense storm event, Santa Barbara County would have experienced another significantly below average year where precipitation is concerned.

With Northern California enjoying a snow pack 174 percent of normal, state water deliveries have increased from 60 to 85 percent, allowing City Hall to turn off its wells and rest its groundwater basins, sucked down to 30 percent of normal capacity. Even so, Dyer said, city customers continue to conserve, using 44 percent less in March than they did four years ago. Dyer also put the council on warning that City Hall ​— ​and the other four water agencies drawing off Lake Cachuma ​— ​are being iced out of negotiations that will soon start between the Santa Barbara County Water Agency and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates the dam at Lake Cachuma.

City water officials have expressed concern that they don’t have a seat at the bargaining table and voting power commensurate with how much water they buy. By contrast, county water agency chief Tom Fayram has expressed frustration at how slowly individual water agency directors reduced their rate of consumption during the drought. Fayram has been outspoken about the need for agencies to understand they’ll have to make do with significantly less water from Cachuma in response to climate change and the need to set aside supplies for the federally endangered steelhead trout. He’s expressed interest in using contract renewal negotiations to achieve greater leverage for his agency.

On the flip side, city water officials and commissioners worry that several county supervisors ​— ​who traditionally have no direct hand in Lake Cachuma ​— ​have expressed keen interest in playing a greater role in managing it. Councilmember Bendy White voiced concern that the county water agency was “pushing us aside” and moving forward without “the advice and consent” of the affected agencies. White was asked to show up at next week’s supervisors’ meeting to speak his mind.


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