It wasn’t quite the “March Miracle,” but the potent winter storm that dumped copious amounts of rain on Santa Barbara County on Friday has provided a huge boost to the area’s water supplies.
Mostly notably, as of early afternoon Saturday, Lake Cachuma had risen some 25 feet since midnight Thursday, swelled by heavy flows from the Santa Ynez River as well as the many smaller creeks in the watershed.
And there’s much more to come.
County officials are estimating that, without additional rainfall, the reservoir that provides water to much of the South Coast — as well as downstream users — will continue to rise over the next couple weeks, according to Jon Frye, engineering manager for the county Flood Control & Water Conservation District.
“Conservatively, we think it will come up another 15-20 feet,” Frye told Noozhawk at midday Saturday.
At the higher end of that range, Cachuma would be just over 50 percent full — a far cry from its status on Jan. 1, when it was just over 8 percent full.
Flows out of Gibraltar Reservoir, which is full and spilling upstream on the Santa Ynez River, peaked at 9,720 cubic feet per second at 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
As of 1:30 p.m., the flow had dropped to 3,740 cfs, a rate that likely will continue to diminish.
During Friday’s storm, which dumped more than 9 inches of rain on some mountain locations, the flow into Cachuma peaked at 25,000 cfs, according to Frye.
A rise of 20 feet more in Cachuma’s lake level would still put the reservoir some 35 feet below the point at which it would spill. But that compares with 100 feet below spill level at the beginning of January.
Another storm is forecast to roll ashore on the Central Coast on Sunday night and Monday, with a continuing chance of showers into Wednesday.
Rainfall totals are likely to be low — a half-inch to an inch total — according to Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
Rain is expected to begin Sunday evening, with an 80 percent chance of rain after midnight, Sirard said. Monday has a 70-percent chance of rain, dropping to 40 percent on Tuesday.
The so-called “March Miracle” rains occurred in the extremely wet month of March 1991, a series of storms that effectively broke another drought that had gripped the region.
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— 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.