Santa Barbara’s Mission Creek
Santa Barbara has had exceptionally low rainfall so far in 2022. The city’s Mission Creek is dry but usually flows with water this time of year. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A new state mandate to conserve water has flustered Santa Barbara city officials, who say a one-size-fits-all mandate doesn’t take into consideration the city’s “remarkable” conservation efforts.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week asked California agencies to reduce their water use by 15% compared with 2020 baseline usage.

“A ‘one-size-fits-all’ statewide mandate on water conservation unnecessarily burdens communities like Santa Barbara who excelled at conserving water throughout this extended drought,” said Joshua Haggmark, the water resources manager for the city.

The declaration was designed to target communities whose water demand had grown significantly after the average and above-average rainfall in the winters of 2017 and 2019. Santa Barbara has not seen such a significant increase, Haggmark said.

In fact, Santa Barbara residents are using 25% less water than they were in 2013. If Santa Barbara followed the state order, it would mean a 37% reduction in water use. The highest the city has seen is 43%, in 2017, when regulations included a mandatory lawn-watering ban and several other restrictions on water use.

Haggmark delivered a water supply report to the Santa Barbara City Council last week, and the situation appears mixed. According to Santa Barbara County, the last decade has been the driest period of rain on record. 

“If there were any skeptics about climate change, it is here,” Haggmark said. “We had the wettest December on record followed by the three driest — January, February March. It’s incredible.”

Cachuma Lake hasn’t spilled since 2011.

“I have a hard time wrapping my head around Cachuma used to spill once every three years,” Haggmark said. 

Haggmark said the lack of rain, except for last Sunday and Monday’s downpour, is “really remarkable for March,” adding that he doesn’t expect the situation to get any better. “March looks like August or September. I would expect to see most of the state in extreme, if not exceptional, drought by September of this year.”

The report offered some good news. 

“We have a community that is rocking conservation,” he said. 

Santa Barbara is at 70% of its annual rainfall. Cachuma is filled to 46%, and Gibraltar is 60%.

The city’s desalination plant makes up about 30% of the water use in Santa Barbara.

“It really has been a lifesaver,” Haggmark said.

Santa Barbara is looking to purchase 2,000 square feet of water from the market. 

The State Water Project has allocated the city 5% of available water this upcoming year. Santa Barbara County will get 15%. 

Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon congratulated the city staff for diversifying its water sources. 

She was disappointed, however, that the state might inadvertently penalize the city by requiring additional water cuts when the city is already conserving at a high rate. 

“I have to echo the frustration with the one-size-fits-all mandate that the state is contemplating,” Sneddon said. “We’re an example of a city that is doing everything right.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at