Jameson Lake spilling in February 2019
Jameson Lake filled to capacity and spilled in early February but the Montecito Water District still cannot deliver the water to customers due to water quality impacts from the 2017 Thomas Fire.  (Alan Prichard / Montecito Water District photo)

Montecito’s Jameson Lake recently spilled for the first time since 2011, but the water-quality impacts from the 2017 Thomas Fire have rendered the reservoir unusable as a water supply. 

Rain runoff is depositing more debris and ash into Jameson Lake, and the increased contaminants make treatment difficult at the Doulton Tunnel and Bella Vista Water treatment plants, according to Montecito Water District public information officer Laura Camp.

Montecito’s deliveries from the lake have been suspended since the Thomas Fire, although the district anticipates that could change soon. 

“We are increasingly hopeful that treatment plant enhancements will enable us to deliver an increased amount of water from Jameson Lake this year,” Camp said in a news release. “Results on the effectiveness of the district’s new treatment enhancements are expected in mid-late March.” 

Jameson Lake started spilling over Juncal Dam Feb. 3, according to the district, and has been at 100-percent capacity since then, as more winter rains hit the region. 

Other factors in Montecito’s water-supply outlook are Lake Cachuma and State Water Project deliveries, groundwater wells, supplemental purchased water, and Doulton Tunnel intrustion. 

Montecito Water District map

The Montecito Water District’s current supplies include surface water and groundwater.  (Montecito Water District)

The above-average precipitation for this time of year will likely result in some recharge of the Montecito groundwater basin, according to Camp.

Before the winter season, “the groundwater basin was at or near a historic low level,” she said, adding that the district expects it will take several years of above-agerage rainfall before the basin gets back to “normal” conditions.

As of Tuesday, Lake Cachuma was at 62-percent capacity, and the Montecito Water District anticipates getting a 100-percent allocation for 2019, Camp said.

The Bureau of Reclamation has not yet changed the allocation from 20 percent, but county leaders have said it is expected to increase due to high rainfall amounts this winter. 

MWD also relies heavily on the State Water Project infrastructure for allocation deliveries and supplemental water purchases, which contributed 82 percent of the current year’s water supply.  State Water Project allocations are currently set at 35 percent for the year. 

Montecito Water District graph

A graph shows Montecito Water District relies on State Water Project deliveries and supplemental water purchases for more than 80 percent of its current supply.  (Montecito Water District)

“We anticipate this will likely increase, but there is no certainty,” Camp said.

The district is pursuing a desalination water purchasing agreement with Santa Barbara and a recycled water project to develop additional local water supplies. 

Santa Barbara-area agencies say one year of above-average rain does not erase impacts of the years-long drought, although it should boost water supplies for at least the coming year. 

The Montecito Water District remains in a “water shortage condition” even though the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows the majority of California, including Santa Barbara County, moving out of drought conditions, Camp said. 

She added that the district continues to rely on customers conserving water at a rate of at least 30 percent compared to 2013 water usage amounts.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.