Saturday, August 29 , 2015, 3:18 am | Fair 69.0º




Santa Barbara County Declares Drought Emergency, Forms Task Force

Residents are being asked to voluntarily reduce water use by 20 percent

Lake Cachuma, a major water source for Santa Barbara County, is more than 50 feet below spill level and less than 40 percent full.

Lake Cachuma, a major water source for Santa Barbara County, is more than 50 feet below spill level and less than 40 percent full.  (Urban Hikers photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s lead, Santa Barbara County declared a drought emergency on Tuesday, and is asking everyone to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.

County CEO Mona Miyasato is assembling a drought task force to monitor supply levels and plan conservation measures.

The panel plans to meet Wednesday for the first time with members from the Office of Emergency Management, County Fire, the county Agricultural Commissioner, Public Works, the Central Coast Water Authority and the Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board.

Since the county has a limited share of State Water, “we can’t look at State Water to help us out of this situation,” Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said.

A drought emergency ranges from stage one — asking consumers to use 20 percent less — to stage five, where there is a mandatory 40 percent reduction in usage.

The county’s declaration will kick off a public education campaign about saving water, including conservation tips on its Water Wise website

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he hopes it will be an “aggressive” voluntary approach to avoid mandatory reductions later on.

Local agriculture and cattle ranching are already hurting from the dry year, Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said.

“The cattle industry is particularly hit hard with this, and at the same time there’s no feed and there’s no water, so that’s going to make the hay prices go bananas; everybody’s feeding cattle,” he said. “And everybody, every day is making the calculation whether we hang on or whether we load them up on the truck and send them off. There’s a lot of people who have already put wheels under them.”

This is the third dry year in a row, so there are below-average levels at reservoirs, river systems and groundwater basins throughout the state.

Santa Barbara County’s four reservoirs are all low, with Gibraltar Reservoir considered unusable due to expensive filtering costs.

Cities are pushing voluntary conservation as well as the county, and water districts insist there are no shortages — even though there’s been no rainfall in January — since they have planned ahead for dry years.

“Certainly we are encouraging as much conservation as possible. We’ve done that for a long time, but we definitely have planned long and hard for this day,” Goleta Water District General Manager John McInnes said.

The City of Santa Barbara will consider emergency water-reduction measures if there is no rain by March, a deadline that is being considered by most districts throughout the area.

The Montecito Water District is discussing a water-shortage emergency this week, and will have a public hearing in early February, district General Manager Tom Mosby said.

With the first ordinance, the district will talk about usage restrictions, while the second ordinance — if it comes to that — would establish water allocations to all properties and penalties for overuse, Mosby said.

Similarly, City of Solvang declared a stage one drought condition last week, saying the water situation isn’t in crisis, but is “quite tenuous and could become critical,” according to city staff.

Like other cities, Solvang will move forward with harsher measures if the winter months stay dry.

Meanwhile, the City of Santa Maria is feeling good, given the ample amount of groundwater to supplement State Water deliveries.

The city has one of the lowest gallons-per-capita rates in the county, according to its utilities department.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.




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