– Santa Barbara Water reservoirs hitting record lows, county to consider regulating water wells (Government Slaves, March 15, 2015):
In the face of an ongoing drought that has caused the number of applications for water wells to nearly triple, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will consider a moratorium on permits for new wells Tuesday.
The county received 278 applications for permits to construct new wells in 2014, according to a staff report. This is up by nearly 300 percent from 2013, when just 101 applications were processed. Only 66 applications for new wells were processed in 2012.
The report links the increase in applications for well permits to the ongoing drought that is affecting the entire state and the fact that water reservoirs are at record lows.
Water, lake levels hitting record lows
While different water purveyors, such as the city of Santa Maria have declared water shortages and instituted water conservation measures, such as limiting outdoor watering times and using a tier structure for water payments, rainfall and water levels remain low.
Tom Fayram, deputy public works director for Santa Barbara County Water Resources, said the water levels at Cachuma Lake are the second lowest they’ve ever been, at about 56,850 acre feet of water.
The all-time low was in 1991, when Cachuma Lake hit 25,000 acre feet.
The 2013-14 year was one of the driest years on record for Santa Maria with almost 5 inches of rain, according to county data. A normal rain year for Santa Maria is about 13 inches of rain. Comparatively, Santa Barbara got about 8 inches of rain last year, when a normal year of rain is about 18 inches.
Fayram said it’s possible that water levels at Cachuma Lake will get close to the minimum pool of 12,000 acre feet by the end of the water year in October, though he expects there will be some carryover of water into the next year. While Cachuma Lake doesn’t supply water to all parts of the county, like Santa Maria, it is an indicator of the severity of the drought.
With the end of March bringing the end of the region’s winter, Fayram said the days for rain are numbered.
“That’s when we make or break our water supply,” Fayram said. “We’re burning through our last days of winter with sunny days.”
Wells failing in south Santa Barbara County
Most of the applications for new water wells are coming from the Montecito area and are proposed to be used for irrigation, although three dozen private wells located within the Montecito Water District have failed due to increased demand for groundwater, according to district officials.
At its Tuesday meeting, the board will consider declaring a water emergency and a moratorium on issuing permits for new wells. The board could also adopt an ordinance requiring new wells to have flow meters so that it’s possible to monitor the amount of water being extracted. Additionally, the board could also choose to make some or all well permits discretionary and require evidence that a new well won’t lead to unsustainable extraction of ground water.
The Board of Supervisors meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the County Administration Building in Santa Barbara. The meeting also can be viewed online at countyofsb.org.