Kenny Lindberg email@example.com
Lake Cachuma, the county’s main reservoir, could be at its lowest water level in history by the end of the summer and fully exhausted by the end of the year.
The new developments were revealed Tuesday by Tom Fayram, Santa Barbara County’s deputy director of water resources, during a presentation before the Board of Supervisors proclaiming May as Water Awareness Month.
“We’re not quite to the lowest point that we’ve been in history, which is just before the March Miracle in 1991, but we will be there after this summer,” Fayram said. “We will reach the lowest level that Cachuma has ever been since its construction in the 1950s.”
Lake Cachuma, which most of the South County and the Santa Ynez Valley rely on for water, is currently at 14.7-percent capacity with just 28,373 acre-feet of water — far off its 193,305 acre-feet capacity.
An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or the amount of water generally needed to supply the annual needs of four to 10 people in an urban environment.
But not all of the available water at Lake Cachuma is deliverable, including 12,000 acre-feet set aside as the minimum pool needed to conduct operations.
“Of the water in the lake right now, only 6,700 acre-feet are available for delivery to the Cachuma member units for water supply,” Fayram said. “The rest of the water is allocated for different purposes including the minimum pool, which is extremely important to Lake Cachuma to function for a number of purposes.”
Fayram explained that the minimum pool is needed for to preserve the microenvironment, to maintain water quality and to pass State Water Project deliveries through.
The lake is supposed to be able to last through a seven-year drought period, but that doesn’t look feasible at the moment, Fayram said.
“We’re far beyond what the past critical drought has been for a five-year period,” he said. “What will be interesting is where we end up for a seven-year period, which is what Cachuma ideally is meant to supply for.”
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A weak El Nino certainly didn’t help the situation, as the county currently has a 70-percent countywide normal-to-date rainfall percentage, meaning that the average winter has averaged more rainfall.
By July 1, Fayram said his department will move the pump barge, which will assist in extracting water as the lake recedes.
“There will be another release for downstream water rights this summer,” Fayram said. “That will increase the dropping of the lake.”
While conservation efforts may slightly amend the timeline, Fayram expects the reservoir to be nearly exhausted by the end of the year.
“It is a moving target, hard to estimate, but with the release for downstream water rights and ongoing use and evaporation, we will be at or near minimum pool by the end of the year,” he said.
In other items, the board heard a presentation on public safety enhancements for the county’s railroad tracks, which was presented by the California Operation Lifesaver nonprofit.
In 2015, there were four deaths from railroad incidents in the county, according to a representative from the nonprofit.
In other action, the supervisors approved:
A recommendation to keep a drought proclamation intact in response to current conditions. The item was approved unanimously.
Renewing the proclamation of local emergency related to the Refugio State Beach oil spill in May 2015, which was approved 4-1, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting.
To adopt a new cost-sharing arrangement from the auditor-controller concerning the county’s public safety dispatch center. The item was unanimously approved.
To move forward with the 2016 Veterans Stand Down in Santa Maria, which attracted about 550 veterans last year. The item was approved unanimously.
The board returns to Santa Maria next week, with its regular meeting scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.