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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 9:44 pm | Fair 55º


Cachuma Board Mulling Long-Term Options for Emergency Pumping Facility

With considerably more water in reservoir than a few months ago, officials must decide what to do with the idled pumping barge

Lake Cachuma comfortably surrounds the Tecolote Tunnel intake tower in a photograph taken in late February. Click to view larger
Lake Cachuma comfortably surrounds the Tecolote Tunnel intake tower in a photograph taken in late February.  (David Flora file photo)

After recent rain and runoff rendered the emergency pumping facility at Lake Cachuma unnecessary, officials are now mulling their options for what to do with the barge and associated equipment.

In February, after recent rainstorms rapidly replenished the lake, officials decided to disconnect the emergency facility, which had been a lifeline for South Coast water agencies during the drought

The floating barge was built as a back-up plan for transporting water into the Tecolote Tunnel intake tower on the eastern end of the lake, which delivers water through the Santa Ynez Mountains to the South Coast.

The barge went online in August 2015, and was moved to a deeper spot in the lake last year as the reservoir’s capacity was further depleted — ultimately getting as low as 7 percent.

With the barge now floating freely, water flow into the intake tower is now gravity-fed.

One option before the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, which includes representatives from Santa BarbaraGoletaCarpinteriaMontecito and Santa Ynez, is to purchase all or part of the pumping equipment, which includes a 2-mile pipeline, from the operator, and find somewhere to store and maintain it.

COMB could also continue paying the facility contractor to rent and maintain the equipment, ask it to remove the equipment altogether or some combination of those three options.

Currently, the barge and pipeline remain at the lake.

COMB’s directors are currently discussing their options with their respective water agencies, said the organization’s general manager Janet Gingras.

“They don’t want to delay making the decision, but they still need some additional information from the contractor at this point,” she said.

As of Monday morning, Lake Cachuma was at 50-percent capacity, according to the county Public Works Department.

During the February storm that prompted officials to begin pulling up the barge equipment, the lake rose 23 feet over a 24-hour period, according to COMB.

With all that water, officials say they don’t expect to need to use the barge for at least a year or two.

“Hopefully Mother Nature will perform for us again in subsequent winters,” Gingras said.

The last time an emergency pumping facility was used at Lake Cachuma, she noted, was back in the early 1990s over a couple-month period — the last time the South Coast went through a drought comparable to the one from which California is currently clawing itself out.

Officials are also hopeful that some of the extra water now in the lake will soon be available for distribution to local water agencies.

The county has sent a request for a mid-year water allocation to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for a 40-percent allocation, said county water agency manager Fray Crease. That equals 10,285 acre-feet of water, she said.

Crease said she wasn’t sure yet when the bureau will respond, but “as soon as possible would be great.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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