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With Lake Cachuma at Critical Levels, County Officials Call for Water Conservation

Santa Barbara County's main water supply is at less than 40 percent capacity, raising concerns about high fire danger

With Lake Cachuma, Santa Barbara County’s main water supply, now reaching critical levels, county officials stood on the lake’s shore Friday to urge people to conserve water.

The lake, usually surrounded by hills covered with patches of green and flourishing oaks, is now encompassed by dead grass, brittle vegetation and drooping trees.

The lake itself is only at about 40 percent capacity, and officials asked that residents conserve as much water as possible to get through until the next storm replenishes the supply.

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Michael Dyer was one of the first to speak during Friday’s event, and said that typically during this time of year, crews are pulling debris out of storm drains and the area is being affected by flooding on roads.

“Right now, we’re going on fire calls,” he said of his department.

Any vegetation fire that comes through will receive five times the resources in terms of tanks, engines and crews because of high fire conditions.

The Fire Department is continuing to educate the public to provide defensible space around their property and, “with the depleted water resources, we have a significant risk of wildfire,” he said.

County Public Works Director Tom Fayram also spoke.

Cachuma Lake
The boat ramp at Lake Cachuma, which normally has more than 190,000 acre-feet of water when full; it is down to 74,000 acre-feet. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Gibraltar Dam, has had only two inches of rainfall this year, he said, which is significant because Gibraltar will typically rise 10 inches in a single storm.

“It is a historical absence of rainfall that we’re looking at on the heels of two very dry years before us,” Fayram said.

Lake Cachuma normally has more than 190,000 acre-feet of water when full but is now down to 74,000 acre-feet, less than 40 percent capacity. An acre-foot represents 326,000 gallons, the amount of water it would take to cover an acre, 12 inches deep.

“The critical effort is to get this water supply to last until the next major rain storm,” he said. “We don’t know when; we just have to get from now to then.”

Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Fisher said agriculture in the county has taken a hit, and that many livestock owners have been forced to reduce the size of their herds because there is no feed or water for them.

The Cachuma Operation Maintenance Board is in charge of moving the water from Lake Cachuma to the various water agencies on the South County, and COMB general manager Randy Ward said the organization is developing a pump system to get the remainder of water out of the lake, which now relies on a gravity system.

The county is urging people to begin a voluntary conservation of at least 20 percent of their water usage. Click here for water-saving tips from

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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