Lake Cachuma: Running on Empty

Lake Cachuma

With winter rains below average for the fifth year in a row, Lake Cachuma is below 15% of capacity and is anticipated to decline further over the summer. Even as green vegetation has sprung up on the hillsides, and plants are flowering, at 72% of average rainfall this year to date countywide there hasn’t been enough rain for the Santa Ynez River to run sufficiently to get inflow into the lake. It is estimated over 5 more inches of rain would be needed for inflow to occur, and with the rainy season coming to an end, the possibility of additional rainfall becomes less likely each day.

Despite northern areas of the state dealing with flood conditions and throwing open reservoir gates to release water, the Central Coast remains deep in drought. While the rains up north will bump the District’s State Water allocation, the lack of rainfall means the District will not be able to count on the lake, normally the main source of supply for the Goleta Valley, until the drought is over.

Instead, customers will rely primarily on groundwater and State Water, supplemented with purchased water and water held over in the lake from prior years. Even as Cachuma’s importance as a supply source diminishes, its role as a conveyance facility remains critically important. The lake serves as the conduit to deliver State Water, purchased water and carryover water to the south coast. Declining lake levels recently necessitated the relocation of the pumping barge to deeper waters. The lake remains a lifeline for the community, but with so many dry years, Lake Cachuma is on life support, and conservation remains critical to sustaining the Goleta Valley. Every drop saved is a drop preserved for drinking, health and safety.

The District remains under a Stage III drought emergency, and due to availability of groundwater, state water and purchased water the District does not plan to move to more severe restrictions before 2017.  For a full list of current drought restrictions, click here.

(Published April 13, 2016)