Photos: Cachuma Lake over half full after recent storms, above average rainfall for the season

Water approaches the boat ramps at Cachuma Lake in this February 2019 photo. Lake Cachuma is 62% full as of April 2021.

Solvang City Council members unanimously declared a stage one drought condition Monday after the California State Water Resources Control Board further reduced the city’s allocation of state water.

The council called for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use citywide, kicked in a variety of mandated water restrictions, and authorized the purchase of up to $400,000 in supplemental water.

City code also places several mandates in place at this stage including:

— Limiting irrigation of turf, including school yards, parks, ball fields, golf courses, green spaces, etc. to run only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.;

— Requiring restaurants refrain from serving water except upon customer request;

— Requiring overnight accommodations to post notices of drought condition and separate notices offering to change linens for multinight guests by request only;

— Limit exterior sprinkler watering of plants, lawns, shrubbery, ground cover, etc., to only between the hours of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. March through October, and 4 p.m. to 10 a.m. November through February;

— Permitting vehicle washing only at commercial car washes (no hand washing allowed);

— Prohibiting the washing of hard surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks except where necessary to protect public health and safety;

— Requiring any water breaks be repaired within 24 hours of user’s knowledge.

According to Public Works Director/City Engineer Matt van der Linden, Solvang received word from the state in December that it would receive 75 acre-feet (5%), rather than its previous 10% (150 acre-feet) allocation, and a far cry from its anticipated 20% (300 acre-feet).

The decision was based on the state’s reservoir supply and snowpack. Oroville Reservoir, the main reservoir feeding the system, sits at 42%, he said.

“Drought conditions have developed now in Southern California and Santa Barbara County. Lake Cachuma is 62% full. That’s not too bad, but it’s not great,” van der Linden said.

City staff anticipates Solvang water users will consume 1,355 acre-feet of water in 2021. The 15% reduction could reduce that number by 203 acre-feet (66,147,840 gallons).

“Normally, we try to plan very conservatively. … With that allocation dropping from 10 to 5 percent, that’s really creating a problem for us,” van der Linden said.

Typically, water from the State Water Project accounts for 50% of Solvang’s water supply. About a quarter is provided by the city’s river wells, about a quarter from its upland wells. Purchases from the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District (ID1) cover shortages in cases of emergency such as unanticipated well shutdowns and each November when the State Water Project shuts down for maintenance.

“This year, 626 acre-feet carried over from 2020 to 2021, so even though there's a 5% allocation, that carryover is saving us this year to make sure we can meet all our demands,” van der Linden said.

Even so, he said secure water planning calls for looking int the future.

“Any time we do water supply planning, we can’t look just one year ahead; we have to plan two years ahead so we have a secure and conservative water supply plan,” he said.

The reduction to 5% of the city’s contracted allocation matches the system’s 2013 historic low.

“Solvang is more severely impacted because we rely so heavily on state water,” van der Linden said.

He said the council could wait on purchases until next year, but warned against it.

“If it’s a dry year, we’re going to be in a world of hurt. Prices will go up as need rises all over the state,” he said.

The city has been working for 17 years on state permitting which could allow it to add another river well. Solvang is also participating in a countywide stormwater resources plan to promote stormwater infiltration rather than runoff, and an another upland well could be added to the system in coming years, van der Linden said.

In other action, the City Council:

— Voted 3-2, with council members Jim Thomas and Robert Clarke dissenting, to withdraw the city’s 2019 request to Santa Ynez Community Services District for potential operation of Solvang’s wastewater treatment plant. City Manager Xenia Bradford said the district had not completed the proposal, and it would be in the city’s best interest to maintain control over its own plant maintained by city employees.

— Entered into a partnership with Solvang Festival Theater to provide up to $71,000 for sidewalk improvement outside the theater, currently undergoing improvement and renovation.

— Unanimously voted to waive the $197,536 parking in-lieu fees for the new owners of the Waterwheel Property, 425 1st Street, based on the fact that the building is being returned to retail use after years of vacancy. A representative for the project said the theater-theme would remain in the structure’s renovation, upstairs would be turned to office spacing, and the street-level units would return to retail with end caps potentially providing bakeries or delis.

Series: Solvang City Council coverage

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