Central Valley Project to Take Santa Barbara’s Drought Reserve
Post this in your “I can’t believe someone thinks this is a good idea” file, under “Amazing Audacity.”
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map of California shows that only a tiny fraction of the state — 0.73% —remains listed as being in Extreme Drought. That’s Santa Barbara and a sliver of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Santa Barbara’s main water supply reservoir, Lake Cachuma, has been bone dry for many months. Even today, in the wettest winter in 22 years, it stands at 15% of capacity. Despite clamping down harsh and harmful cutback mandates on its citizens’ and businesses’ use of water, the City of Santa Barbara has been forced to beg, borrow and buy water from many different sources just to keep its residents’ faucets running.
Part of that water is stored upstate, in San Luis Reservoir. Now, the reservoir is filling for the first time in many years. That should be good news, but it sure isn’t for Santa Barbara.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Central Valley Project (CVP), owns a portion of the capacity of San Luis Reservoir. That portion is 217,000 acre-feet from being full.
Another portion of the reservoir is owned by the California State Water Project (SWP). That is nearly full, with just 17,000 acre-feet remaining.
Finally, cities, farmers, and water contractors own the rest of the reservoir’s storage.
During times of plenty, the cities, farmers and contractors temporarily store water in the reservoir they don’t need at the time, calling on it later in the season or in the following year as needed.
That’s how many cities and farms were able to get through the drought — using their stored water. Santa Barbara is one of those that hold reserve water in the reservoir.
But now, after 100% of the contractor stored space was filled with fresh incoming water from the California Aqueduct, the SWP space was nearly filled as well. When the last of those 17,000 acre-feet of water have been pumped into the reservoir from the aqueduct, water will be added to finish filling the CVP reserve capacity, and that’s when the problem starts for Santa Barbara.
If there’s no more room in the other users’ reserves, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will begin to convert Santa Barbara’s drought reserve to CVP project supply water, along with water from other water contractors. If the reservoir fills completely, a situation expected in late February to early March, all of Santa Barbara’s drought reserve will be converted and it will vanish entirely.
And down south, Santa Barbara’s Lake Cachuma will still only be 14-20% full. That water will mostly go into the Santa Ynez river to help fish migrate, and that’s one of the reasons that Santa Barbara kept its reserve in San Luis Reservoir.
Under the rules laid down when San Luis Dam and Reservoir were constructed, Santa Barbara won’t be compensated for their loss if Reclamation takes their water.
There’s something intrinsically unfair about depriving victims of the last remaining vestige of California’s five-year epic drought the life-saving water they need because the federal government and the state failed to anticipate California’s water needs by building new infrastructure south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and raising San Luis Dam.
In fact, in weighing the viability of the dam-raising project, Reclamation declared, “San Luis Reservoir will never fill again, so more storage is unneeded.”
You can’t make this stuff up. Poor Santa Barbara.