Most folks living in far North County don’t give much thought to Cachuma Lake, because most of the far-north water comes from other, local sources.
Still, Cachuma plays a big role in the water adventures of Santa Barbara County as a whole, especially for South Coast communities and mid-county areas such as the Santa Ynez and Lompoc valleys.
All of which makes a recent county grand jury report universally interesting, at least in the context of our little slice of paradise.
This is a good time to discuss Cachuma Lake and its resources, because winter rains have revived the big reservoir. As of last week, Cachuma held 154,722 acre-feet of water, or about 80 percent of its total capacity. This is as full as the lake has been in quite a while.
Bradbury Dam at the upper regions of the lake received almost 27 inches of rain this past winter, which is 136 percent more than what has for years been considered normal.
In reality, there is no such thing as “normal” in California, and everyone who lives here is aware of that fact. Long-term drought is normal, as are torrential winter rains.
Cachuma is important to this end of the county because regular, mandated releases provide habitat for steelhead trout, and freshen up aquifers downstream through to the Lompoc Valley.
We don’t always agree with grand jury findings, but most of what this panel came up with regarding Cachuma and water management in general make sense, including the group’s first suggestion that the Santa Barbara County Water Agency work with the federal government on renewing the contract for the Cachuma Project, which is nearly a quarter-century old.
Much has changed in the past 25 years, including local weather patterns. For one thing, a quarter-century-old Cachuma management document can hardly expect to deal with today’s problems in a changing environment. The jury recommends the county work out a deal to meet with the feds every five years, which makes sense.
The panel made nine recommendations, and local jurisdictions have three months to respond, as usual.
The jury report also recommends changing the county’s water year, now running Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, which ends the water year just as winter rains are due to begin. Instead, the jury sees a May 1-April 30 water year as more practical with regard to making water management decisions.
Another of the panel’s recommendations especially dear to our heart: Jurors said the County Water Agency and five districts that distribute Cachuma Lake water should stop their internecine turf wars and agree to cooperate, speaking with one voice when dealing with the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The united approach is especially important regarding how much water is to be diverted to the districts each year.
That’s a stellar recommendation for every public agency, from the very smallest special district in Santa Barbara County to the U.S. Congress, but a concept that seems to have been lost in the political dance into which bureaucrats tend to lock themselves.
In many cases it’s no more complicated than the two or more sides sitting down for regular meetings, perhaps as frequently as once a month, discussing their common issues and problems, and finding reasonable solutions that fit for all parties involved.
Water is and will continue to be one of this region’s essential resources, which elevates water management to a special place in the overall scheme of things. That will be exponentially more important when the next long drought occurs. And you know it will.