An overhead view of water spilling over Bradbury Dam at Lake Cachuma on Saturday.
An overhead view of water spilling over Bradbury Dam at Lake Cachuma on Saturday. Credit: Mike Eliason photo

Since the beginning of January, California has been deluged — with parts of Santa Barbara County recording up to nearly 50 inches of rain .

As a result, the California Department of Water Resources announced last week that a substantial increase in forecasted State Water Project deliveries for this year.

Earlier in the year, State Water Project allocations were forecasted to be 30% of requested water supplies, which were then increased to 35% in February.

On Friday, the Department of Water Resources said it expects to deliver 75% of requested water supplies to 29 water agencies that serve 27 million Californians.

Agencies in Santa Barbara County have rights to a combined 45,486 acre-feet of State Water annually.

Central Coast Water Authority Executive Director Ray Stokes told Noozhawk that reservoirs across the state are filling up, and both Lake Oroville and San Luis Reservoir — two of the main reservoirs for the State Water Project — have completely filled.

“It’s a dramatic turnaround from what we were seeing, so it’s good news indeed,” Stokes said.

More locally, almost all of Santa Barbara County’s reservoirs are full or close to capacity, with Gibraltar Reservoir and Lake Cachuma on the Santa Ynez River both spilling.

Gibraltar Reservoir spills.
Gibraltar Reservoir on the Santa Ynez River spills after strong rains earlier this year. Santa Barbara County has received copious amounts of rainfall, but still officials urge conservation because another drought is inevitable. Credit: City of Santa Barbara photo

According to the county’s rainfall and reservoir summaries, Gibraltar Reservoir was at 100.8% of its capacity, Lake Cachuma was at 98.1%, Jameson Reservoir is at 100.4%, and Twitchell Reservoir was at 59.3% as of Monday morning.

Goleta Water District General Manager David Matson said that a full Lake Cachuma represents at least three years of water supply for the community.

“(Lake Cachuma being full) combined with the district’s diverse water supply portfolio of groundwater, state water, and recycled water means the Goleta Valley is well positioned for whatever the next few years bring,” Matson said.

Since the beginning of this year, downtown Santa Barbara has recorded about 24.27 inches of rain, while 15.81 inches have been recorded in Santa Maria, and Buellton has received about 19.25 inches.

San Marcos Pass, with the county’s highest amount of rain, has received 49.72 inches since Jan. 1.

“Our water supplies are in solid shape right now. … We’re going to get 100% of our Cachuma allocation,” said Joshua Haggmark, water resources manager for the city of Santa Barbara.

He added that the city was also able to pay off its water debt for water it borrow from other agencies during the drought.

“I’ve been in this job since 2013, and we really haven’t had a significant break in the drought since,” he said.

While all of this rain is good news for the short-term and people at local water agencies are excited, groundwater basins will take longer to fill, and officials stressed that water conservation still needs to be practiced.

Maps produced by the U.S. Drought Monitor show the remarkable change since last fall, when much of Santa Barbara County was in 'extreme drought.'
Maps produced by the U.S. Drought Monitor show the remarkable change since last fall, when much of Santa Barbara County was in ‘extreme drought.’ Today the county is showing no drought at all. Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

“(All the rain) is very beneficial, but we probably need multiple years of above-average rain to fill up the groundwater basins that serve the whole county,” said Matt Young, water agency manager for the county. “We have seen that the weather situation and water situation could change quickly — water conservation is really important.”

Haggmark concurred with that view, but said that the city’s groundwater wells have been turned off, so that should help recover the basins.

“Locally, our groundwater basins are fairly small and likely will take a few years to get back into what I would call stable condition,” Haggmark said. “Every drop that we save now is a drop that we can use if we’re in a drought situation next year…

“It’s a great time to move forward with (water conservation projects, such as removing lawns).”

Matson also emphasized the importance of using water wisely, and said that the Goleta Water District is recharging its groundwater basin by injecting treated water under a permit through the State Water Resources Control Board.

“Injection usually occurs during wet winters when excess spill water is available from Lake Cachuma, and current projections are that excess spill water will be available for several more weeks as recent rainfall is expected to bring additional inflow into the lake,” Matson said.

“By resting the basin while actively injecting treated surface water when it is available, this critical drought buffer will remain available for when the community needs it in the future.”

The Department of Water Resources said that State Water Project allocation forecasts are typically evaluated monthly, and further allocation adjustments are likely after April snow survey measurements, as “April 1 is traditionally when California’s snowpack peaks and starts to melt.”

“While California’s surface water conditions have greatly improved this year following three years of historic drought, several water supply challenges remain in parts of the state,” the Department of Water Resources said.

“Millions of Californians also rely on groundwater supplies as a sole source of water, and the state’s groundwater basins will be slow to recover following the extreme drought. Californians should continue to use water wisely to help the state adapt to a hotter, drier future.”

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Serena Guentz, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at