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Local News

Lake Cachuma Reservoir Level Rises a Foot with Rain From Three-Day Storm

Despite recent storms, Santa Barbara County has received below-average rainfall this season and remains in a severe drought

A stormwater retention basin, which normally hosts soccer games, becomes a haven for happy ducks in Santa Maria on Thursday after three days of rain. Click to view larger
A stormwater retention basin, which normally hosts soccer games, becomes a haven for happy ducks in Santa Maria on Thursday after three days of rain. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

This week's three-day storm dropped enough rain on Santa Barbara County to make creeks flow and slightly raise reservoir levels, but it didn't help with the long-term water supply.

Highest rainfall totals for Santa Barbara County monitoring stations were recorded at West Big Pine, with 5.43 inches, the KTYD tower, with 5.38 inches, and San Marcos Pass, with 5.33 inches, according to the National Weather Service. 

All eyes were on Montecito and recent burn areas with this storm expected to be the strongest one of the season since the deadly Jan. 9 debris flows. 

The Montecito Hills recorded 4.12 inches of rainfall during the storm, according to the weather service, and there were no major incidents reported.

As of Friday, the county had received 59 percent of normal rainfall for the calendar year and 51 percent of normal average rainfall for the water year, which started Sept. 1.

Reservoir levels had increased slightly, with Lake Cachuma at 40 percent capacity, Santa Barbara's Gibraltar Reservoir at 85.3 percent capacity, Montecito's Jameson Reservoir at 64.1 percent capacity and Santa Maria's Twitchell Reservoir at 1.9 percent capacity. 

Scroll down to read the Friday rainfall report from the county.

Water flowed down the San Ysidro Creek channel in Montecito on Tuesday as a three-day storm hit the Central Coast. Click to view larger
Water flowed down the San Ysidro Creek channel in Montecito on Tuesday as a three-day storm hit the Central Coast.  (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

Lake Cachuma rose about a foot, and there was still some inflow from the Santa Ynez River on Friday, said Fray Crease, head of the Santa Barbara County water agency.

“It may be our last good chance to get some supply into Cachuma for this season,” she said. “It didn’t buy us very much.”

The county is in severe drought, and with another below-average-rainfall winter, water agencies continue to run conservation programs and carefully plan for future water supplies.

No rain was in the weather forecast as of Friday, but the risk of debris flows in recent burn areas does not go away with the end of the winter rainy season.  

The San Ysidro Creek debris basin in Montecito, seen from the air Friday, is one of many that filled with rocks, trees and mud in the Jan. 9 debris flows and then cleared ahead of following storms. Click to view larger
The San Ysidro Creek debris basin in Montecito, seen from the air Friday, is one of many that filled with rocks, trees and mud in the Jan. 9 debris flows and then cleared ahead of following storms.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

“We need the water, but we don’t need too much of it because of the other implications, whether it be dangerous to our community or sedimentation concerns for our reservoirs. I think we straddled that line as best we could this winter and look forward to next winter for similar concerns,” Crease said. “It takes three to five years for the hydrology of those watersheds to recover to pre-fire conditions in terms of runoff.”

Burned watersheds held up during this week’s storm, with no major debris flows reported, and rainfall was less intense than the forecast predicted, she added.

Following the Jan. 9 storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Public Works had coordinated a massive effort to clear debris basins, creek channels and bridges, and the work seems to have paid off.

With relief, Flood Control personnel said Thursday that debris basins and creek channels in Montecito worked as designed during this week’s storm.

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.

March 23, 2018 Santa Barbara County Rainfall Report

Click to view larger
(NOAA photo)

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