Wednesday, August 15 , 2018, 12:58 pm | Fair 74º


Local News

Rains Increase Regional Water Supply as Lake Levels Inch to Fill Lines

State Water Project numbers are uncertain, but officials hope to see local allocations expand

This week’s sunny weather left last week’s storm as a distant, drizzly memory, but although some may not have enjoyed the downpour, it did add to the South Coast’s water supply. The level of Lake Cachuma, which supplies Santa Barbara County’s South Coast with 85 percent of its water supply, is up nearly two feet since the beginning of the month. The reservoir has 10 feet to go until it fills completely.

Bruce Jones, a spokesman from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — the agency responsible for operations at Cachuma’s Bradbury Dam — said that although water from Cachuma is typically spilled when it reaches an elevation of 750 feet above sea level, this year, the water level will be allowed to rise a little higher.

“The intention is to be at (an) elevation (of) 753 (feet) at the end of the rainy season,” he said in an e-mail to Noozhawk. “Three extra feet of storage (will be) added to provide water for downstream habitat.”

Further upstream on the Santa Ynez River, Montecito’s reservoir is still inching toward its fill line. Jameson Lake has risen only a few inches since the beginning of February, and has about eight feet to go before it is at capacity, but the slew of storms at the end of January added several feet to the lake’s elevation.

Gibraltar Reservoir, located roughly midway between Jameson Lake and Lake Cachuma on the Santa Ynez River, filled in January, but each new rainfall brings quite a bit of sediment via tributary creeks from the huge and as yet silty Zaca Fire burn area. During heavy rainfall, Santa Barbara city water authorities are often forced to halt operations at the reservoir until the particles washed in fromupstream are able to settle.

All in all, the South Coast water supply is looking good, said Rebecca Bjork, the city of Santa Barbara’s water resources manager.

“We weren’t in bad shape before the rain — we were only in our second dry year after (Cachuma) spilled,” she said, stressing the importance of Cachuma in the South Coast’s water portfolio. “One thing I try to do is differentiate between a water shortage and a drought. We’ve had a couple of dry years, but we’re not in a water shortage.”

Problems continue to plague the State Water system, however, as the conflict between a federal court decision protecting endangered fish species in the Sacramento-San Jaoquin Delta — the very heart of the State Water Project’s distribution system — and thirsty farmers in the San Jaoquin Valley’s west side plays out.

Precipitation over the past month has had some impact on the State Water Project’s supply, the exact numbers will not be known until the California Department of Water Resources releases its next report on Monday. For the time being, DWR reports indicate that only 5 percent of the county’s State Water allotment — upon which the Goleta, Montecito and Carpinteria Valley water districts rely as part of their supply portfolios — can be guaranteed, although that number is likely to increase to 35 percent or more after the new figures are tallied.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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