What Does the Governor's Drought Declaration Mean for the City's Water Supplies?
Source: City of Santa Barbara
The past winter was especially dry throughout the state, including in Santa Barbara, which received only 48 percent of normal rainfall. Despite the dry winter and the recent drought declaration from Governor Newsom, the City’s water supply outlook is positive as a result of its diverse water supplies. Santa Barbara’s water sources include: Lake Cachuma, Gibraltar Reservoir, ocean desalination, groundwater, imported water through the State Water Project, and recycled water.
A consistent supply of desalinated water since 2017 helped the City meet demands during the most recent drought, and enabled the City to build up a surplus of water stored in Lake Cachuma. Additionally, rainfall in 2017, 2019, and 2020 filled Gibraltar Reservoir, and water from the reservoir was used to supply the City, allowing for additional storage in Lake Cachuma. Currently, the City has enough water stored in Lake Cachuma to supply the community for the next two and a half years with Lake Cachuma supplies alone. The City can continue to let its groundwater basins rest and recover.
Water conservation throughout Santa Barbara continues to be strong. The community’s water use currently averages 25 percent less than pre-drought (2013) water use. Many customers made permanent changes to conserve water during the last drought, such as replacing lawns and sprinklers with water wise landscaping, or making plumbing upgrades. As a result, water demands are not expected to fully “rebound” to pre-drought conditions. Santa Barbara’s continued embodiment of water conservation as a way of life is important as dry conditions are experienced statewide.
The City’s 2020 Enhanced Urban Water Management Plan (EUWMP) was adopted by Council on June 29, 2021, and is an important planning document that sets the vision for the City’s water supply and management for the next 30 years. It includes updated water demand projections that define a “new normal” based on post drought water demands, as well as updated population and economic drivers for City water use. The EUWMP is the product of rigorous analyses that considered the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the City’s water management strategy, and included stakeholder input throughout the development process.
The EUWMP anticipates dry conditions like those we are currently experiencing and includes an Adaptive Management Plan for managing the City’s water supplies under drought conditions. Currently, City staff are “working the plan” to manage the City’s water resources and expect to update the Water Commission and City Council on potential next steps in drought response during the spring of 2022, should we experience another dry winter. For now, the community is encouraged to continue to use our water resources efficiently.
For more information on the City’s water supplies and the Enhanced Urban Water Management Plan, visit www.SantaBarbaraCA.gov/WaterVision