For the first time in six years, water began spilling out of Gibraltar Reservoir on Tuesday, improving the prospects for re-filling Lake Cachuma downstream on the Santa Ynez River.
Gibraltar, which serves the city of Santa Barbara, reached the full mark at about 1 a.m. and began releasing water into the Santa Ynez River, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department.
Combined, Gibraltar’s four spillways were releasing a total of about 440 cubic feet per second, sending it downstream toward Lake Cachuma, which stood at 11.6 percent full by late afternoon but remains 97 feet below its own spill level.
Gibraltar reportedly last spilled in March 2011.
County water managers estimate that without any further precipitation, Cachuma’s level will climb another 5 feet, bringing the amount of water in the reservoir to almost 27,000 acre-feet, according to Tom Fayram, deputy director for water resources at the county Public Works Department.
That would put the lake at about 14 percent of capacity.
Two traditionally wet months are ahead, which could further improve Cachuma’s water levels now that the ground is saturated, the condition necessary for substantial runoff.
“By morning, we’ll see Cachuma grow a little bit faster,” Fayram told Noozhawk Tuesday evening. “Eventually (the flow) will recede, it will slowly fall off, but we’ll see several days of inflow before that happens.”
The Santa Ynez River below the dam along Paradise Road was running noticeably higher Tuesday, with flows that have not been seen in several years.
Lake Cachuma had risen some 6 feet since midnight Thursday as a trio of winter storms has drenched the region.
While the increase to Cachuma, which provides much of southern Santa Barbara County’s water supply, is welcome, it’s far from enough to overcome years of severe drought, according to local water officials.
“If we can get into another wet period, back to back to back storms, we could make a serious impact on the lake storage,” Fayram noted.
Earlier in the day, Joshua Haggmark briefed the Santa Barbara City Council on the events at Gibraltar, stressing that while the drought situation was improving, the city’s groundwater supplies remain at historically low levels that could take a decade to replenish.
“At this time, there’s reason to be optimistic, but there’s no reason to let down our guard.” Haggmark said, adding that conservation is still imperative.
Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman contributed to this report.
— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.