Lake Cachuma, a major source of water for Santa Barbara residents, has declined to 30 percent capacity this October due to prolonged drought conditions.
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state of California in January, urging residents to reduce water use by 20 percent. Officials in Santa Barbara and elsewhere have been urging local residents to cut back on their water usage, with some cities imposing heavy fines for noticeable water waste.
Deputy Public Works Director for the Water Resources Division of the County of Santa Barbara Thomas Fayram said a small amount of water will still be available by October 2015 assuming no additional water flows into the lake this winter.
“We could end up with more or less depending on how much state water is acquired and pumped in, and how much users conserve,” Fayram said. “This is the subject of a year-long study we are looking at. There are many ways to make Cachuma more reliable that will be looked at as well.”
Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said the water level of Lake Cachuma has reached its lowest point since the drought in the late 1980s.
“I have watched with great concern as the lake level has been dropping over the last couple of years, and even though we’ve had rain, we haven’t had enough rain, clearly, to make up for the usage of the lake,” Farr said. “It used to take a lot longer for the lake to drop, even when we didn’t have a lot of rainfall. And now it’s really only been three and a half years or so since the lake was full and spilling.”
“Less than 10 percent of our regular water is from groundwater. There just isn’t a lot of capacity in our local area. We can only use a small fraction of this during the drought.” — Arturo Keller
Farr said rainfall is the only way to alleviate the drought situation.
“They can only fill if there’s rain,” Farr said. “If it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t really matter how big your reservoir is, because there’s just no water to put into it.”
Bren School Professor of Biogeochemistry Arturo Keller said a short-term supplemental water supply would involve bringing in water from the California State Projects, and a long-term solution may be to consider a desalination plant such as the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant downtown, which the City of Council of Santa Barbara recently reopened.
“If we have another low rain year, we need to start on the desalination plant, and also lease some water rights to have a reasonable level at Cachuma,” Keller said.
According to Director Fayram, some cities such as Goleta and Carpinteria are turning to groundwater usage to make up for the shortages. In addition, Keller said groundwater supplies in Santa Barbara are insufficient to compensate for the drought conditions.
“Less than 10 percent of our regular water is from groundwater,” Keller said. “There just isn’t a lot of capacity in our local area. We can only use a small fraction of this during the drought.”
Santa Barbara is currently in Stage Two drought conditions, indicating that a serious water shortage is expected, and drought-based water rates and mandatory water use restrictions may be implemented.
Fourth-year environmental studies major Andreas Pappas said citizens have not been prioritizing conservation of water as much as they should.
“I do not believe civilians are doing enough to conserve water,” Pappas said. “This may be due to the fact that more information needs to be provided to the people. Also, the people may not understand the severe consequences of the drought.”
Andreas said in addition to affecting citizens, the drought has had a large impact on the environment.
“Continued scarcity of water will also exacerbate erosion in coastal regions,” Andreas said. “As for vegetation, our chaparral climate may not suffer as drastically as wetter regions, however, agricultural vegetation may suffer extremely.”
A fundamental change in the way California residents view their environmental resources is imperative, according to Pappas.
“A change in not just community water use, but also the paradigm of our environmental ethic must change for this region to remain habitable,” Pappas said.
According to Farr, residents need to consider conservation efforts in the context of their environment over the long term.
“I think that we always need to realize what a precious resource water is, and that we never want to waste it,” Farr said. “The state of California is a fairly arid area, particularly where we live, and so, water is always going to be an issue and a concern.”