The U.S. Drought Monitor upgraded the severity of Santa Barbara’s status last week from moderate to severe, thus designating Santa Barbara County as one of the driest three statewide. This week’s mild rain is unlikely to change this status. Also listed as severe are Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The good news, according Santa Barbara city water czar Joshua Haggmark, is that the situation can get direr still. “At least we’re not in the ‘exceptional’ category,” he said.
So far during this water year, which began on September 1, 2017, slightly more than four inches have fallen at Gibraltar Reservoir, about 17 percent of normal. In Ventura County, Haggmark pointed out, only one and a half inches have fallen.
Southern California is recording yet another one of its hottest, driest winters ever. Snowpack in the Sierras is at historic lows. Last year’s abundant snows, however, have left reservoirs throughout Northern California replenished, and Haggmark is hoping the State Water Project will deliver as much as 35 percent of the region’s water entitlements. “It’s like there’s an inverted hurricane stalled right on top of us, just sucking everything up,” said Haggmark. Lake Cachuma — the main water supply for South Coast water agencies — is 39 percent full on paper, but that number significantly overstates the amount of water available for human consumption.
Alluding to the devastation triggered by the intense rains of January 9, Haggmark expressed trepidation about what to wish for. “Do we pray for rain?” he asked. “I’m afraid to pray for rain.” In the meantime, Haggmark said he’ll be looking for water to buy from rice farmers north of the Bay Area Delta region. City water users are now using 32 percent less than they were before the drought.