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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 5:21 pm | Fair 62º

 
 
 
 

Lake Cachuma Disconnects Emergency Pumping Barge Following Heavy Rains and Reservoir Inflow

With lake at 46-percent capacity, crews have already pulled up the pilings connecting the barge to the intake tower

Lake Cachuma’s water level has risen enough with recent rains that officials decided to disconnect the emergency pumping barge that was used to get reservoir water to the South Coast. Click to view larger
Lake Cachuma’s water level has risen enough with recent rains that officials decided to disconnect the emergency pumping barge that was used to get reservoir water to the South Coast.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk file photo)

One of the most widely circulated images displaying the scope of drought in Santa Barbara County last year showed the water-intake tower at Lake Cachuma sitting dry a mile away from the low-level reservoir waters. 

At Monday’s meeting of the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, the latest photo taken from the same spot showed a serene lake burying the bottom of the tower.

With the rapid rise of Cachuma following a storm earlier this month that dropped over 9 inches of rain in the reservoir's watershed, officials decided to disconnect the emergency pumping barge that has been a lifeline for the South Coast water agencies during the drought. 

Lake levels were so low that a floating barge was built as an emergency facility to get 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.

As the storm of Feb. 17 bore down on the South Coast and raised the lake level past a critical elevation, officials asked Cushman Contracting Corp., which owns and operates the facility, to begin pulling up the pilings that connect the pumping barge to the intake tower. 

Once the equipment becomes too submerged, it becomes more difficult and expensive to remove, according to COMB.

In the 24-hour period during the storm, Cachuma’s elevation rose 23 feet — an addition of 23,000 acre-feet of water, according to COMB — and it’s risen higher since.

The Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board will decide what to do with the lake’s emergency pumping barge equipment at next month’s meeting. Click to view larger
The Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board will decide what to do with the lake’s emergency pumping barge equipment at next month’s meeting.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

As of Monday morning, the lake’s elevation was just about 710 feet, and it was 46-percent full. 

With a month of expected rainy season to go, the elevation could continue rising to as high as 730 feet, said Dan Ellison, project manager for HDR Engineering, the firm COMB is using for the emergency pumping facility project.

“It’s pretty certain that we’re not going to need this pumping at all next year, and probably for two years, and maybe three years,” he told COMB, which includes representatives from Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Montecito and Santa Ynez. “It really depends on how high we go.”

At its next meeting in March, the board is expected to deliberate what to do with the barge and associated pipes: remove and discard them; purchase and store away the barge and its equipment; continue to leave the barge in “stand-by” mode and continue renting the pipes; or purchase parts of the barge and pipes for future use.

In a month’s time, Ellison said, officials will have a better idea of how high the lake will get, which will better inform the decision of what to do with all the emergency equipment.

Tom Fayram, the county’s deputy director of water resources, said that by early April, minimal allocation of new Cachuma water could begin after evaporation rates, water for fish releases, and downstream water rights reports are tabulated.

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.

Seen in September 2016, the Lake Cachuma intake tower was fed by the emergency pumping facility during the drought. Click to view larger
Seen in September 2016, the Lake Cachuma intake tower was fed by the emergency pumping facility during the drought.  (David Flora photo)
Seen after the February 2017 heavy rains, the Lake Cachuma water levels rose enough to submerge the bottom of the intake tower at the eastern end of the reservoir. Click to view larger
Seen after the February 2017 heavy rains, the Lake Cachuma water levels rose enough to submerge the bottom of the intake tower at the eastern end of the reservoir.  (David Flora photo)

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