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Late Season Storms Raise Lake Levels Trace Amounts

A series of late season storms is building a watery foundation for our dry lakes and rivers, and hopefully, getting us closer to badly needed runoff.

“Small storms, large storms .. they all add in to that puzzle to get to the point where you have enough rain on the ground,” said Tom Fayram, Deputy Director of Water Resources for Santa Barbara County.

Fayram said a glimmer of hope came late Friday afternoon in the form of water flowing in the Santa Ynez River toward Cachuma Lake.

“It didn’t make it to the lake,” Fayram told NewsChannel 3 on Monday. Fayram said seeing water in a lakebed that’s been bone dry for three years is a real positive.

At one point, Thursday’s intense wind and rainstorm dumped one inch of rain within a ten minute span at the top of San Marcos Pass. The amount at Cachuma Lake was much less, only three inches. Still, every bit helps.

“What does hurt is if you have a storm like this and don’t have anything for another month and a half or so because everything dries up,” said Ken Hemer, manager of the Cachuma Lake marina. “You don’t get that saturation where you’re going to get that runoff.”

For that critical mountain runoff that feeds into Cachuma Lake — the main water source for Goleta, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria — all eyes are on Gilbralter Dam.

“Gibralter Dam is the indicator for Cachuma inflow,” said Fayram. “We’re still at seven inches of rain. We really need another three to seven more inches at Gibralter to really generate runoff into Cachuma.”

Fayram rattled off a slew of numbers to NewsChannel 3 as we head into the rainy season, which runs through March. He said our current rainfall total stands at 145 percent of normal after last week’s storm. The hope is, the storms line up and that number remains high. But keep this in mind: At this time last year we were at 30 percent.

Gibralter Dam would need 50 to 60 inches of rain for the entire year in order to get Cachuma Lake to a healthy level, according to Fayrum. He points out, that is not out of the question; It’s not unheard of for a single storm to dump ten inches into Gibralter and elsewhere.

“We had some rain gages that measured an inch in 15 minutes,” said Fayram about last week’s storm.

“The question is: Will mother nature give us some storms in January and February? That’s the heart of our winter and that’ll be the determining factor.”

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