Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 10:29 pm | Fair 65º


Local News

With No ‘March Miracle,’ Santa Barbara’s Drought Scenario Gets Bleaker

Officials don't expect April showers to make up for multi-year rainfall deficit

The Andree Clark Bird Refuge is one of the spots around Santa Barbara that is affected by the ongoing drought conditions.
The Andree Clark Bird Refuge is one of the spots around Santa Barbara that is affected by the ongoing drought conditions. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

There will be no March Miracle; There is no rain in sight. 

The downpour that dropped 23 inches of rain to rescue Santa Barbara in 1991 will not repeat itself this year and Santa Barbara city officials have come to terms with that fact.

“There may be a rainfall in April, but it doesn’t appear to be anything that will change the game,” said Joshua Haggmark, water resources manager.  

Haggmark broke the news to the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting and said Lake Cachuma is currently at 14.9 percent capacity.

“We have now gone into completely new territory with the lake,” Haggmark said. Still, the city has enough water to get it through 2018 if conditions remain dry. 

And there was more bad news Tuesday. The city’s Tertiary Filtration Plant is only producing 700,000 gallons of recycled water per day — about half of what the city needs to supply its customers.

The plant was originally designed to produce as much as 2.5 million gallons per day. The city supplies the water to city parks, the Santa Barbara Unified School District and commercial customers. Haggmark said the membranes are failing.

The City Council met in closed session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting to talk about the problem. The city will have to add potable water to meet the city’s recycled water needs if the problem isn’t fixed by the summer, when the water is most needed. 

“It’s unfortunate that we are here right now in that position,”​ Haggmark said.

In another bad, drought-related sign, water is so low in Lake Cachuma that without rain, releases to assist the steelhead trout with passage will end.

“We will be out of water for fish come mid-May,”​ Haggmark said. “That is catastrophic in my mind. We have done so much to protect the steelhead.”

Councilman Harwood “Bendy” White expressed disappointment. 

“This amazing effort that has gone on for decades, how do we take care of them?” White asked. “There’s even been some conversation about catching them and putting them in a hatchery.”

The city is also still negotiating with the Montecito Water District over potable water produced from the city’s desalination plant, which is expected to start operating in October.

Right now, the plant is designed to produce 3,125 acre-feet per year for city water customers and Montecito wants to purchase some of the water on an ongoing basis.

Haggmark said there is still some good news: City residents are saving water.

“On the bright side, the community continues to rack up some impressive conservation numbers, with 34 percent conservation (from 2013) overall,”​ Haggmark said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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