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Are We Out of the Drought?

Lake Cachuma Now Almost 60 Percent Full

Jascha Kostruba (center) and Liam Fealy take advantage of the rains by skim boarding in Cabrillo Ball Park (January 15, 2019)
Paul Wellman

Recent rains have Lake Cachuma almost 60 percent full, the highest since 2011. Even so, water managers caution that it’s premature to celebrate the end of one of the worst droughts in Santa Barbara history.

Technically, the drought is only over if and when Lake Cachuma ​— ​which supplies about half the water needs for South Coast water agencies ​— ​spills. The lake’s water level is now at the 723-foot mark; to spill it must exceed 753. While water managers are now thinking about relaxing certain drought emergency conservation goals, no actual plans have been proposed. In the City of Santa Barbara, customers are still using about 30 percent less than they did before the drought. In Goleta ​— ​like other South Coast water districts ​— ​customers are still required to make do with only 20 percent of their normal water allotments.

Tension between water districts and the County Water Agency ​— ​which holds the contract for Lake Cachuma with the Bureau of Reclamation ​— ​are already plenty tense and can be expected to get even tenser. That contract is about to expire, and the water districts that rely on Cachuma are eager to take it over from the County Water Agency, which they acerbically note has no water and no customers. Water Agency officials had hoped in the past to use the new contract to impose tighter new restrictions on water consumption based on new water supply realities born of climate change and the prospect of prolonged droughts in the future.

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