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Drought goes on, water use goes down and supplies stay reliable

The beginning of the eighth year of drought conditions in Santa Barbara should be a red-alert for water managers, but the crisis is being managed.

A multi-part plan is being used to slow down the water use and preserve what’s in the local storage sites both above and below the ground.

“We’re going into year eight and smashing records every day, ” said Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark. “This is uncharted territory with records going back over 100 years.”

Even with the longest drought in memory, the water supplies for Santa Barbara and the surrounding region have held up. The measuring stick is Cachuma Lake, the areas main water source and reservoir for drinking water.
“We have enough water to keep our state water pipeline full for the next two years and that’s about 30 percent of our supply there,” said Haggmark.
The other security has come from the newly operational $60-million desalination plant which operates at full capacity.
. “if it does stay dry this winter we will be talking about the next increment of expansion for desal in the spring if necessary,” said Haggmark. “The water quality is exceptional. I am really pleased with the water quality.”
The underground wells have all been turned off to give them a rest and to eventually be replenished with rain water runoff. “We were running a few of them over the summer to help suppliment demands but right now everything’s turned off and we hope to keep it off until spring and then we will start them up again,” said Haggmark.

The game changer will be rain, and not just a couple of storms. It will take some long haul storms or multiple wet winters before the drought emergency will be over.
” We consider this drought cycle over when Cachuma spills, said Haggmark. “Gibraltar however has lost significant capacity.”
The conservation savings of 30 percent or more for years by customers has been said to be equivalent to building another desal plant . That has been one of the biggest changes in the water supply use.
The range of water savings plans is impressive, from a change in water use habits to completely tearing out some landscaping.
“Some people live in apartments, and what can you do in an apartment? Then you have homeowners with big parcels they are in there talking to us about rebates for landscaping. I think the cost of water has really made the cost of changing your landscape financial viable.
KEYT’s help to get the word out and that kind of stuff has made a difference.”
Even with the drought there’s been development but does it really use more water?
“The last time our community was using the volume of water which is around 10-thousand acre feet was in the 1950’s . it really challenges the whole idea that just because there are more people moving to Santa Barbara and more people living here we use more water .”

A report to the Santa Barbara City Council will be made at 2 p.m. today.

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