Debris from recent storm runoff is piled up against Bradbury Dam at Lake Cachuma on Friday.
It’s been a week, and Lake Cachuma still has room for more water. Credit: Lael Wageneck / Santa Barbara County Public Works Department photo

Water releases from Lake Cachuma are expected to begin Saturday morning, ahead of upcoming storms, according to Santa Barbara County officials.

Cachuma was at 86.4% of capacity as of 10 a.m. Friday, and about 9 feet below its spill level, according to the county Public Works Department.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, has indicated it plans to release water at the rate of 2,000 cubic feet per second into the Santa Ynez River below Bradbury Dam, Matt Young, manager of the county Water Agency, told Noozhawk.

That should boost the flow of the river to an estimated 4,000 cubic feet per second.

“Flooding issues are not expected at that level,” Young said.

At its peak during last week’s storms, the river was flowing at about 20,000 cubic feet per second through Lompoc, Young said.

The releases are based on modeling conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation, and are intended to make room for new inflow to the Cachuma reservoir expected from storms over the weekend.

Although those weather systems are not expected to be as intense as the one that hammered the county last week, the rain will be falling on already-saturated soils, which will increase the potential runoff.

The plan, Young said, is to release smaller amounts of water from Cachuma over a longer period of time, as opposed to letting the lake fill and then spill with less control.

Lake Cachuma County Park on Friday, with the reservoir nearly full after recent major storms.
Cachuma Lake County Park on Friday, with the reservoir nearly full after recent major storms. Credit: Lael Wageneck / Santa Barbara County Public Works Department photo

The lake still is expected to completely fill eventually, he said.

In a related matter, the county Sheriff’s Office will be flying a helicopter over the Santa Ynez River in the Lompoc area on Friday and Saturday to give evacuation warnings to people living in the riverbed, according to Sgt. Sergio Arias of the Lompoc Police Department.

The riverbed in the Lompoc area has become a site for encampments used by homeless people.

“Water rescues are extremely hazardous,” Arias said in a press release. “Please do not put public safety officers at risk. The Lompoc Police Department requests that public stay out of the riverbed.”

The helicopter will be making the following announcement, according to Raquel Zick, sheriff’s spokeswoman:

“Cachuma Lake will be releasing water and rain is expected for the next few days. The water levels are expected to rise. It is unsafe to be in the riverbed area. Stay out of the river.  Temporary shelter is available.”

Similar warning will be provided by the helicopter over the Santa Maria River, Zick said.

A webcam view of Lake Cachuma from 10:20 a.m. Friday.
A webcam view of Lake Cachuma from 10:20 a.m. Friday. Water releases from the reservoir are expected to begin Saturday morning ahead of this weekend’s storms. Credit: Santa Barbara County Public Works Department photo
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Tom Bolton, Noozhawk Executive Editor

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at tbolton@noozhawk.com.