In the wake of the worst drought in recent history, the City of Santa Barbara has declared its water supplies are solid enough that there’s no need to buy supplemental water supplies to get through the next two years. That’s true even if drought conditions remain, and Montecito buys 1,400 acre-feet of desalinated water a year from the city.
If the drought persists past 2022, however, city water chief Joshua Haggmark acknowledged supplemental water supplies might be necessary. Although Lake Cachuma, the chief water supply for all South Coast water agencies, hasn’t spilled since 2011, recent rains have the reservoir 70 percent full.
This news was delivered to the City Council the same week as when water officials celebrated the 100th birthday of Lake Gibraltar, the first dam the city built on the other side of the Santa Ynez mountains. That dam required the construction of a 3.7-mile tunnel through the mountains — then the longest in the world — to connect the new water supply to the city’s water customers.
Today, Gibraltar has become largely silted over because of major fires over the past 10 years that have reduced its storage capacity by a factor of two-thirds. So diminished is Gibraltar’s capacity that today city planners are exploring plans to cover its surface with floating solar batteries to generate more green energy. That plan, however, requires a hookup to the power grid that currently does not exist.