Creek Week, followed by World Rivers Day on Sept. 26, had Santa Barbara flowing with articles and events celebrating our local creeks and watersheds. Creek walks, panel discussions, and storm drains decorated with chalk art commemorated the importance of life-giving water to all living things.

Explore Ecology reported more than three tons of trash were collected in the coastal clean-ups. Despite all the fun and fanfare, it was evident that water news generally is grim.

In July, California Gov. Gavin Newson requested a voluntary 15% reduction in water use, but compliance across the state in the first two months was strikingly uneven. While the North Coast region reduced water usage 16.7% and the Bay Area dropped 8.4%, Southern California dipped a barely registerable 0.1% overall. Los Angeles’ and San Diego’s water usage actually rose.

The next month, the federal government officially declared the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River Basin. The river’s two largest reservoirs have shrunk to about 40% capacity. On July 23, Lake Powell’s basin revealed a 150-verticle foot bathtub ring, the lowest level since 1969, before it was completely filled the first time.

As High Country News reported: “The Colorado River watershed is terminally ill.”

The Colorado water shortage declaration triggered mandatory allocation cuts beginning in 2022. The upper states of the pact (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) have continued to meet their legal obligation for the quantity of water delivered down to the lower basin for Arizona, California and Nevada, plus 1.5 million acre-fee annually to Mexico.

However, the slack in the system is now absorbed, so the pact participants are set to renegotiate the contract.

The overall trend is warming and drying, according to Jeff Kightlinger, 15-year general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Fifteen of the last 20 years have yielded below “normal” rainfall.

“We have a shrinking pool of water, there is no doubt about it,” said Kightlinger. “And we’ve over-allocated it.”

One of the solutions California is working to structure is a partnership with Las Vegas on a wastewater recycling project in Southern California. Nevada would contribute some funds in exchange for a share of the water generated, which they would draw from California’s water allotment in Lake Mead. This type of cooperative project using new technology — expected to cost $3 billion-$4 billion — will be needed to meet the shrinking water budget.

Forty million people depend on the Colorado River Watershed. This includes us, since Santa Barbara County derives 14 percent of its water from the State Water Project, tapping into the Colorado River.

The Colorado River water supports our food — 5 million acres of farmland — and the flora and fauna forming the diverse ecosystem that sustains our earthly nest. Urban use is just 10 percent of water use, but conservation is still key for us.

Closer to home, the dry year and an interim settlement between the city of Ventura and Channelkeeper triggered a closure of the final water well at Foster Park Well field on the Ventura River. The Aug. 5 event marked the first time all wells were shut down at Foster Park to maintain river flows for the ecosystem. They will be shuttered until winter rain replenishes the water table, barring an emergency with Lake Casitas. River flows rebounded significantly after pumping ceased.

We used to argue about conservation versus technology for dealing with water and the many environmental issues we have wrought on our planet. At this stage of the game, we need all the options: good policies, strong wills, and perhaps some well-placed miracles.

A good resource for cutting our own consumption is WaterWiseSB. The county website has information about our water sources, suggestions for irrigation and landscaping, indoor fixes, and help for businesses.

From now on, users all over the West will likely be digging deeper into their cash flow to replace and conserve water flow.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Karen Telleen-Lawton is an eco-writer, sharing information and insights about economics and ecology, finances and the environment. Having recently retired from financial planning and advising, she spends more time exploring the outdoors — and reading and writing about it. The opinions expressed are her own.