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Lake Cachuma Pumping, Downstream Releases Planned for Summer

Turning on the lake's emergency pumping facility to get water to Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria could happen in July or August

Dropping levels of Lake Cachuma aren’t likely to impact the ability to do downstream releases this summer, according to officials.
Dropping levels of Lake Cachuma aren’t likely to impact the ability to do downstream releases this summer, according to officials. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

After yet another dry winter, the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District is planning to make downstream releases from Lake Cachuma to recharge groundwater basins along the river, and the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board is planning to start the emergency pumping system to get water to the Santa Barbara area once lake levels drop too low for the gravity-fed system to work.

Turning on the lake's emergency pumping facility to get water to Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria might happen in July or August, according to COMB general manager Randy Ward.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when at this point,” he said.

The large project will be essential to pump water into the Tecolote Tunnel — which supplies Santa Barbara County’s South Coast with water — once reservoir levels drop too low to gravity-feed the intake towers of the water distribution system. It's already operational but in standby mode for now. 

The Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District’s downstream release will impact the timeline for pumping since it will bring down the level of the lake, Ward said.

The lake is currently at 26.3 percent capacity and Bruce Wales, general manager of the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, said this year’s release could lower Lake Cachuma by five feet. 

Since cities, private well operators and agricultural interests have water rights downstream of the Bradbury Dam, there are water releases from Lake Cachuma to recharge groundwater basins that those people rely on for well pumping.

There was a 4,500 acre-foot release last August and there will be another release this year in July or August, Wales said. 

Similar to last year, the district is timing the water release based on water storage data, waiting until people experience difficulty pumping from their wells before the water is let downstream, he said. The district tracks about 1,000 wells between municipal and private customers.

“The reservoir last spilled in 2011 and there was ample water to pump from groundwater under the river in 2012,” Wales said. “In 2013, we made a release for most of the summer all the way to the Lompoc Plain.”

Last year, “we deliberately let matters get fairly serious before we released the water,” he said. “I mean, people were turning off their wells as far as the Alisal Bridge (a Santa Ynez River crossing in Solvang) and were essentially running out of water. When we got water to them in a day or two, they were pumping just fine.”

The lack of rain proves how essential the downstream releases are to communities along the river, which have prior water rights, he said.

For this summer, the release will target the area upstream of Lompoc that didn’t receive any water during last year’s release. The Lompoc Plain area, which has a lot of agriculture, needs water next year, Wales said.

Dropping lake levels likely won’t impact the ability to do downstream releases, short of it completely drying up, since the release point is at the bottom of the reservoir near Bradbury Dam, he said.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli 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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