Prolonged Drought Lingers Across Community

Throughout the Goleta Valley and the South Coast, drought evidence is visible for all to see: stressed and dying trees, parched play fields, and restaurants advertising, “water served only upon request.” Also apparent is the community’s response. You may have noticed signs in your neighborhood showcasing yards where customers have swapped out water thirsty landscaping for drought tolerant plantings. Many area businesses have done the same, using District-sponsored rebate programs to install efficient irrigation, and make permanent changes to their landscaping to save water now and into the future. Even the roundabout at Los Carneros and many of the medians around town showcase how waterwise plantings can help landscapes look great in spite of the most severe drought on record.

As the drought stretches into its sixth year, the impacts extend beyond dry landscapes and continued calls for conservation. The drought has also given rise to changing water quality conditions. As the water line at Lake Cachuma has receded over the years, vegetation has grown in the dry lake bed. Last year’s winter storms submerged this growth, which is now breaking down and increasing the organic material floating in the lake. As water temperatures rise over the summer, so too does the concentration of materials that have to be removed from the water during the treatment process. It is these changing water quality conditions that present a new challenge to the District.

Compounding that challenge are the effects of the recent Whittier Fire, as well as the Rey fire in 2016 that burned a large portion of the Lake Cachuma watershed. Next winter’s rains will carry the heavily charred remnants from both fires into the lake.  Of particular concern is that the Whittier Fire burned the area surrounding the intake tunnel, which conveys water to the South Coast. Burned vegetation, trees and ash are expected to substantially degrade the quality of the raw water that flows into the Corona Del Mar Water Treatment Plant. In anticipation of these issues, the District is already reviewing alternative treatment protocols and operations, and actively monitoring water quality.

The District is also doing critical maintenance on the distribution system over a 12 week period beginning August 28, running through November, that will involve flushing water through District fire hydrants. Flushing removes sediment and mineral deposits that have built up over the course of the drought by releasing water at high velocity from fire hydrants and helps maintain consistency throughout the distribution system, ensuring high quality water is delivered throughout the District. The District has delayed flushing to conserve water, but with the prolonged drought we can no longer wait to complete this needed system maintenance. Where possible, the District will work to divert water to recreational areas or open space, but for flushing to be effective water must be released at high volumes so that is not always possible.

These are just some of the many challenges associated with the prolonged drought, whose impacts continue to be felt across the community. As we head into fall, the community will be watching to see whether winter brings much needed rains. Even with significant rain, the impacts of the drought will linger.

(Published September 12, 2017)