Gibraltar Reservoir spills.
Gibraltar Reservoir spills after strong rains. Santa Barbara rainfall has exceeded 272% of historic water levels already this year, but still the city urges conservation because the next drought is near. Credit: City of Santa Barbara photo

Santa Barbara has enough water for at least the next three years, but city officials warn that the next drought is just around the corner.

The City Council accepted a formal water update from the staff Tuesday, but the council also plans to return in the spring to rescind the Stage 2 Water Shortage Condition.

Although city planners were pleased with the recent rainfall, they are also conservative about the future.

“I always assume we are going right back into drought conditions,” said Dakota Corey, the city’s water supply and services manager. “We want to be prudent in managing our water supplies and always assume there are more dry years to come.”

The city’s water supply was way below historical levels as of Aug. 31, 2022, the end of the water year. Then, Gibraltar Reservoir was at 68% of average, Lake Cachuma was at 65% of average and the Santa Barbara Airport was at 73% of historic average.

But already this year, the city has received 272% of its historic rainfall.

The rainfall means the city will be able to restore its groundwater supplies and won’t have to consider expanding the amount of desalted water that is uses. In fact, the city plans to turn off the plant for a couple of months later this year.

Councilman Eric Friedman asked how the city could be building new housing without stressing water supplies.

“The other part of this story that I think people lose sight of is that the new housing that will be going in to meet these new housing needs is largely multifamily,” Corey said. “It is largely very efficient. Multifamily projects usually have very low landscape needs and also they have the lowest fixtures.”

Friedman expressed joy with the recent rainfall.

“It’s quite amazing what a few months makes,” Friedman said.

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse joked that the city has returned to a land of “milk and honey,” while acknowledging the level-headed city staff for consistently pushing conservation, without panicking about low water supplies.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at