Sunday, June 25 , 2017, 5:15 pm | Fair 75º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Lake Cachuma Rising Fast After Potent Winter Storm Moves On

Reservoir level likely to increase another 15-20 feet, which would put it above 50% capacity

Just weeks after nearly running dry, Lake Cachuma has risen 25 feet in the last two days as a result of Friday’s powerful storm. Santa Barbara County water officials expect the lake to exceed 50 percent of capacity, even without any additional rainfall. Click to view larger
Just weeks after nearly running dry, Lake Cachuma has risen 25 feet in the last two days as a result of Friday’s powerful storm. Santa Barbara County water officials expect the lake to exceed 50 percent of capacity, even without any additional rainfall. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

It wasn’t quite the “March Miracle,” but the potent winter storm that dumped copious amounts of rain on Santa Barbara County on Friday has provided a huge boost to the area’s water supplies.

Mostly notably, as of early afternoon Saturday, Lake Cachuma had risen some 25 feet since midnight Thursday, swelled by heavy flows from the Santa Ynez River as well as the many smaller creeks in the watershed.

And there’s much more to come.

County officials are estimating that, without additional rainfall, the reservoir that provides water to much of the South Coast — as well as downstream users — will continue to rise over the next couple weeks, according to Jon Frye, engineering manager for the county Flood Control & Water Conservation District.

“Conservatively, we think it will come up another 15-20 feet,” Frye told Noozhawk at midday Saturday.

At the higher end of that range, Cachuma would be just over 50 percent full — a far cry from its status on Jan. 1, when it was just over 8 percent full.

Flows out of Gibraltar Reservoir, which is full and spilling upstream on the Santa Ynez River, peaked at 9,720 cubic feet per second at 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

The walk to the boat docks at Lake Cachuma is much shorter now that the reservoir has risen some 25 feet, and lake is expected to get even higher. Click to view larger
The walk to the boat docks at Lake Cachuma is much shorter now that the reservoir has risen some 25 feet, and lake is expected to get even higher. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

As of 1:30 p.m., the flow had dropped to 3,740 cfs, a rate that likely will continue to diminish.

During Friday’s storm, which dumped more than 9 inches of rain on some mountain locations, the flow into Cachuma peaked at 25,000 cfs, according to Frye.

A rise of 20 feet more in Cachuma’s lake level would still put the reservoir some 35 feet below the point at which it would spill. But that compares with 100 feet below spill level at the beginning of January.

Another storm is forecast to roll ashore on the Central Coast on Sunday night and Monday, with a continuing chance of showers into Wednesday.

Rainfall totals are likely to be low — a half-inch to an inch total — according to Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Rain is expected to begin Sunday evening, with an 80 percent chance of rain after midnight, Sirard said. Monday has a 70-percent chance of rain, dropping to 40 percent on Tuesday.

The so-called “March Miracle” rains occurred in the extremely wet month of March 1991, a series of storms that effectively broke another drought that had gripped the region.

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Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

Water from the Santa Ynez River pours into Lake Cachuma on Saturday. Click to view larger
Water from the Santa Ynez River pours into Lake Cachuma on Saturday. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)
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