Despite recent rains, Santa Barbara still remains in the middle of a serious drought, and City Council members got an update detailing just how dire the lack of rainfall is and will continue to be notwithstanding a series of substantial storms.
The drought is so bad that water rates in the city could increase as early as July 1, and the City Council voted Tuesday to have a company study exactly how much those increases should be.
Joshua Haggmark, the city's water resources manager, gave an update on the drought situation, and said that last year was the driest year in the city's 94-year span of record-keeping.
February is typically the city's wettest month, but the drought has continued, with the city declaring a stage one drought.
As a result, the city is asking for a voluntary 20 percent reduction in water usage because of the possible impact on future years, he said.
With the cost of water going up quickly across the state, Haggmark said, "the cheapest way to approach a drought is through conservation."
The city has a diverse number of water sources, including recycled water, locals wells, lakes, reservoirs and the possibility of purchasing of state water.
The city is looking to purchase up to 4,500 acre feet, about $3.5 million in cost, and is also working to recycle water, and the plant used to do that is being upgraded.
That project is expected to be completed by summer 2015.
The city also has requested proposals for preliminary designs to get its desalination plant up and running, and local and national companies have bid for that project. The city should have a completed report by August, and desal construction would take nine to 16 months, he said.
Other capital improvements are also critical.
Water levels at Lake Cachuma have gotten so low that gravity will no longer be able to direct water to South Coast users, so a pump will have to be installed to remove the remaining water from the lake. That project is expected to be online in September of this year.
As far as the conservation efforts go, the city will be able to tell in May if people have actually been reducing their water usage citywide.
If enough water isn't conserved, a stage two drought can be triggered and could bring with it an increase in rates.
"What we're asking the community for is extraordinary conservation," Haggmark said.
Right now, the city is focusing on outside water use, getting people to turn their sprinklers off and use mulch to keep evaporation of moisture around plants to a minimum.
The city has more tips for conservation on its website, available by clicking here.