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Wednesday, March 20 , 2019, 5:47 am | Mostly Cloudy 53º


Santa Barbara County Reservoirs Still Waiting on Impact From El Niño Winter Storms

While many Santa Barbara County residents are hoping for another “March Miracle,” El Niño winter rainstorms haven't caused any runoff into Lake Cachuma, the major reservoir for the South Coast.

That means the only local increase in water supply is the rain that’s falling on the lake itself, said Tom Fayram, deputy public works director for the water resource division.

Fayram says it takes 10 to 15 inches of rain before there’s runoff for the Santa Ynez River.

“There is a little runoff to creeks but it’s not robust enough to carry itself into the lake, it dissipates into the stream channel,” he said.

The city of Santa Barbara’s Gibraltar Reservoir recorded 22.76 inches of rain in the so-called “Miracle March” of 1991 and this year had less than 3 inches so far in March, Fayram said.

Gibraltar is the benchmark for measuring Santa Ynez River rainfall, he said.

Without new water in Lake Cachuma, agencies are using carryover water — left over from previous allocations — in addition to supplemental purchased water and State Water Project that’s delivered by pipeline.

“I think the problem right now is there’s no new water in Cachuma to allocate so everyone’s sitting with carryover in the lake,” Fayram said.

“We have State Water Project deliveries, and only one size pipe, so if everyone switches to move lots of State Water, there’s a little constraint in how much we can move.”

The Central Coast Water Authority delivers supplies from the State Water Project and has the capacity to bring about 15,000 acre-feet into Cachuma each year, CCWA Director Ray Stokes said.

Water agencies haven’t taken many CCWA deliveries in January and February but it’s ramping up now, he said.

Due to the snow and rain hitting Northern California, the Department of Water Resources is expected to increase the State Water Project allocation this week, possibly up to 50 percent, Stokes said.

It gets decreased in times of drought and was 5 percent for 2014.

Agencies can get a 30-percent allocation of water delivery requests now, up from 10 percent in December and 15 percent in January.

With the increase, there may not be enough capacity to move all the water south through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, so he reminded agencies there could be some restrained capacity, he said.

He reminded agencies there is some restrained capacity with getting water into Cachuma, but he doesn’t expect a problem, he said.

Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board members approved moving the emergency pumping facility barge to a second, deeper location so South Coast water agencies can continue delivering water from the lake as water levels drop.

As long as the lake is kept at a minimum elevation of 643 feet, water can be moved through the lake to the barge from the CCWA pipeline, Fayram said.

The county Public Works Department is already discussing changing entitlement amounts — how much water each agency can take from Cachuma each year.

The amounts haven’t changed since 1995 and, as it became during the current drought, the reservoir designed to last through a seven-year drought is emptying after four.

“For the future we’ll definitely be coordinating that a lot closer than what we did,” Fayram said.

Noozhawk managing 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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