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Drought Relief Prompts Dolphin Discussion

City Debates Reactivating Stearns Wharf Fountain

Photo: Paul Wellman City water czars Joshua Haggmark and Kelley Dyer (pictured) were commended for their guidance through seven years of historic drought.

The drought may not be technically over but with Lake Cachuma nearly 80 percent full, the Santa Barbara City Council was debating whether the time has come to allow water back into the dolphin statue at the base of Stearns Wharf. While councilmembers haggled among themselves over the optics, staff ​— ​led by Joshua Haggmark and Kelley Dyer ​— ​got a warm round of applause from the councilmembers, City Administrator Paul Casey, and everyone else in the council chambers on Tuesday. Both were praised for competence and professionalism under fire, having guided the city through seven of the worst drought years Santa Barbara has ever experienced.

In that time, the South Coast managed to dodge a very protracted bullet. During the depth of the drought, Lake Cachuma had been reduced to a glorified mud puddle and the desalination plant was exhumed from mothballs, rebuilt, and fired up. Thousands of acre feet of water were bought from farmers in Northern California and shipped south via the State Water Project. Customers in Santa Barbara cut back water consumption by as much as 40 percent. This winter, 32 inches of rain fell on the Gibraltar Reservoir and 23 inches fell downtown. Lake Cachuma rose by 100,000 acre-feet. Councilmember Kristen Sneddon cautioned that the drought’s not over; City Hall simply downgraded its status from level III to level I. Who knows, she and others asked, how much it will rain this winter?

Councilmember Eric Friedman brought up the dolphin fountain ​— ​Was it time? he asked. If so, should the water be potable or recycled? Too many signs, it turned out, would be required to warn people not to drink recycled water. A seawater fountain would require major engineering intervention. Councilmember Jason Dominguez pushed to have the matter referred to the water commission.

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