Santa Barbara County’s 10-Year Rainfall Average at ‘All-Time Low’

Drought Conditions Loom as State Water Allotments on Hold ‘Until Further Notice’

Tom Fayram | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

With drought-like conditions looming large over the entire state, Santa Barbara County is reporting its lowest 10-year average for rainfall ever. “We’re at an all-time low,” said Tom Fayram, county Water Agency director. Fayram acknowledged the numbers are less dramatic if only the last seven years are counted.

Two weeks ago, statewide managers of the State Water Project put participating water agencies on notice they could count on deliveries of only 5 percent of the water to which they are contractually entitled. For agencies south of the Sacramento Delta, they were told they could not expect even that “until further notice.”

Making matters worse, Fayram added, most groundwater basins throughout the county have not managed to replenish their supplies to pre-drought levels yet. The larger the groundwater basin, it turns out, the bigger the gap.

Even worse, he said, is that much of the water in Lake Cachuma — about 62 percent full — is already spoken for. For example, the City of Santa Barbara has managed to “bank” nearly three years’ worth of its Cachuma allotments by relying on its new desalination plant instead. Thanks to the desal plant, the City of Santa Barbara is sitting relatively pretty, its aquifers much better off than neighboring Goleta or Carpinteria, for example.

Drought conditions vary dramatically; while Ventura County has received just 3.5 inches of rainfall thus far, Santa Barbara reported 10 inches of rainfall at its Gibraltar Reservoir. Even so, it is empty.

The debate over just how empty the county’s collective water glass is will no doubt be a factor in the battle between the county supervisors — acting as the fiscal agent for the State Water Project — and all the individual water agencies throughout the county drawing from it. At issue is an arcane but critical measure that has everything to do with the buying and selling of state water entitlements.

Fayram and the county supervisors are opposing a measure that would allow individual water agencies to sell their state water rights to entities outside the county and to the highest bidder. That, said Fayram, has never been allowed before. But that makes the county Water Agency the only entity south of the Delta to oppose the provision. In fact, all Santa Barbara water agencies drawing on the State Water Project insist the right to buy and sell water throughout the state is the only thing that’s kept their customers from drying out during the drought.

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