Santa Barbara is now entering the seventh year of drought conditions, a circumstance City of Santa Barbara Public Works czar Rebecca Bjork called “unprecedented.” Bjork’s remarks — it’s been seven years since Lake Cachuma has spilled — came as she gave the City Council its monthly update on drought and water supply issues. The good news is that city residents are using less water now than they have anytime since 1985. They used 35 percent less in the month of October than they consume during a so-called “normal” month. Annualized, the numbers are even more dramatic: 40 percent less.
Given federal weather predictions, such caution might prove necessary. Weather forecasters say there’s a 30 percent chance this winter will be drier than normal. On paper, Lake Cachuma is 39 percent full, but only a small portion of that is available for human consumption. None of the councilmembers, nor Bjork herself, brought up the recent study cited on the front page of the Los Angeles Times indicating California could find itself forced to make do with 15 percent less annual precipitation beginning 20-30 years from now. According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the shrinking of the Arctic ice sheets is expected to contribute to high-pressure fronts — atmospheric ridges — that effectively block rain-bearing air currents off the Pacific Ocean from making their way inland.
For Tuesday’s council meeting, such problems were not immediate enough. More pressing was the havoc this week’s multiple power outages — triggered by the Thomas Fire — have been having on home sprinkler systems. Many such systems have been programmed to release water at time intervals to maximize conservation. The power outages scramble such programming, meaning customers could find themselves irrigating far more than they wanted.