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Montecito Water District Purchasing Water-Storage Space in Central Valley

With $1.89 million acquisition, agency reserves enough capacity with a water-banking program to store 1,500 acre-feet during surplus years

The Montecito Water District is in the process of purchasing 1,500 acre-feet of water storage with a Kern County water-banking program. “We’re buying the ability to bank water during wet periods and extract it during dry periods or drought, or whenever we need it,” says Nick Turner, the district’s general manager. Click to view larger
The Montecito Water District is in the process of purchasing 1,500 acre-feet of water storage with a Kern County water-banking program. “We’re buying the ability to bank water during wet periods and extract it during dry periods or drought, or whenever we need it,” says Nick Turner, the district’s general manager. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

The drought may be easing a bit, but the Montecito Water District is taking no chances.

Last week, the agency’s board gave the green light to buy storage capacity in the Central Valley to bank away extra water in case it sees a revival of the last several years of scarcity.

The district is currently working with the Semitropic Groundwater Storage District in Kern County to buy 1,500 “shares” of storage, which means it could store 1,500 acre-feet of water there.

The groundwater banking district covers more than 220,000 acres and can store up to 1.65 million acre-feet of water. Currently, water agencies in California have reserved 700,000 acre-feet of that for their water.

An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land at about a foot deep. A typical household uses around half of an acre-foot in a year.

“We’re buying the ability to bank water during wet periods and extract it during dry periods or drought, or whenever we need it,” said Nick Turner, the Montecito Water District’s general manager.

He called it “a more secure, reliable way to store” the MWD’s existing supplies or future water purchases.

Buying the 1,500 shares costs $1.89 million, according to the district. It can sell the shares if it decides it no longer needs or wants them.

As its Tuesday meeting, district board member W. Douglas Morgan called the opportunity “the best thing since sliced bread.”

With Montecito lacking a proper groundwater basin to store water, “we don’t have, basically, a drought buffer,” Turner said.

He added that the new storage capacity would be especially crucial when the State Water Project allocates less water than what the MWD requests — which it does more often than not.

The state recently announced that its allocation for 2017 will be 85 percent of agencies’ requests.

San Luis Reservoir, near Los Banos in Merced County, where many local water purveyors have their state aqueduct water stored, will likely contain at least 3,000 acre-feet of MWD supplies next year, Turner said.

If the reservoir spills, under state and federal rules, it and other local agencies’ water becomes general aqueduct supply.

Turner said there’s an increasing chance that will happen next year, giving the Montecito district a further incentive to move water to Semitropic.

Local agencies also now know how much water from Lake Cachuma will be flowing out to them.

Tom Fayram, deputy director for water resources at the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department, said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has just made official a midyear allocation of 40 percent, effective April 1. That comes out to a little over 10,000 acre-feet.

“Everything’s looking better,” he said.

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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