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Often-dry Twitchell Reservoir east of Santa Maria filling up to dramatically high level

Twitchell Reservoir
Water is seen in Twitchell Reservoir, as well as under Huasna River Bridge on March 22, 2023. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. -- Recent wet weather is helping fill up the often-dry Twitchell Reservoir to a dramatically high level not seen in a quarter century.

As of Wednesday, the reservoir located about 10 miles east of Santa Maria, along the Northern Santa Barbara and South San Luis Obispo county line, measured at 57% capacity, a remarkable amount since it was only 1% capacity in early January.

"I think it's awesome, especially this lake. It's always dry. It disappears and then comes back after we get these big old rains," said Lompoc resident John Carrillo, while visiting the reservoir on Wednesday afternoon. "Hopefully, it sticks around for a while. It's very rare that we get to see it this full."

Built in 1959, the reservoir is used mostly as a source to recharge the groundwater basin in the Santa Maria Valley, as well as help with flood prevention.

According to Randy Sharer, Twitchell Management Authority Chair, this is the most water in Twitchell Reservoir since 1998, when El Niño that year brought relentless rain into the Central Coast for several weeks.

"Twitchell's current elevation is right around the 624 elevation that is a smidge above what the conversation pull elevation is, which the conservation pull is managed by Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District, above that, releases are controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers," said Sharer. "There's over 100,000 acre feet currently in the reservoir, which is the equivalent of more than two years of historic average releases."

With water in the reservoir, releases are ongoing into the Santa Maria River, helping create a strong flow that hasn't been seen in many years.

"The releases are currently are out of the ordinary to say the least and it's to manage the elevation within the the surface water of the reservoir to where it doesn't become hazardous to the valley," said Sharer, while speaking on the banks of the river Wednesday morning. "What you see behind us is the equivalent in a one day flow of about six months worth of water use for the City of the Santa Maria, so in a couple of days, what's going to the beach right now, the next two days, is enough water to equal the amount of water used by the entire City of Santa Maria."

Having so much water in Twitchell Reservoir is a very welcome sight for the City of Santa Maria, as well as the rest of the Santa Maria Valley, which like the rest of the Central Coast and the State of California, are still recovering from recent drought.

"Twitchell Reservoir is very important for groundwater recharge throughout the valley and the City of Santa Maria uses that groundwater to provide water to its customers and the city," said Santa Maria Utilities Director Shad Springer. "It's great news to see all that water in Twitchell Reservoir for the opportunity for groundwater recharge throughout the summer."

Sharer noted that during the 64 years the reservoir has been in operation, there has been only a handful of times it has reached the same level where it is today.

"It's eventful," said Sharer. "Only about a dozen times have we approached the storage capacity that Twitchell will be managing this spring and summer."

According to Springer, a healthy Twitchell Reservoir will likely benefit the Santa Maria Valley long into the future.

"The groundwater basin serves as a gigantic reservoir and it served us through the times of drought," said Springer. "Now to see that surface water in Twitchell Reservoir and knowing it will be released  to recharge to recharge that groundwater basin will serve the residents and the City of Santa Maria for years to come. The groundwater basin is large and robust. Water levels were dropping, so we're excited to see water behind Twitchell and the river flowing, which is providing recharge even as we speak."

Article Topic Follows: Weather News

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.


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