Winter storms dumped enough rain to raise water levels in local reservoirs. That’s good.
What’s not so good is a situation in which what rain has fallen was mostly absorbed by dry soil, which means a lot of water never made it to local reservoirs.
Experts say March was pretty good to the Central Coast in terms of total rainfall, compared to recent years. But those recent years were relatively dry. Another severe drought cycle?
March produced only about half of what would be considered normal — if normal could even be part of a conversation about life in California.
The winter rains left the region’s smaller reservoirs in fair shape, but the big reservoirs — Cachuma and Twitchell — hold just a fraction of their capacity.
The Twitchell situation is bad news for North County. Twitchell’s max is about 60,000 acre-feet, and it’s now down to less than 4,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is 326,000 or so gallons, or what is generally needed to supply the annual water needs of four to 10 people in a typical urban environment.
Given Santa Maria’s steadily-growing population, the numbers really don’t add up. In fact, none of the water numbers are adding up. It takes years of normal rainfall to bring reservoirs to capacity, and we’re just not seeing that. As of the beginning of April, with the county receiving a bit more than half its normal rainfall for the year, we seem headed for another long drought.
Local water managers have all the facts, and continue to operate conservation programs and make plans for rationing future supply.
It’s a typical California situation — we need rain, but not too much of it. A deluge could cause another disaster in the regions below burn areas, which actually have been recovering nicely because of the amount of rain that has fallen.
Those huge downpours do not do as much replenishing as you might think, because so much of that water races to the ocean, and is not captured and saved for future use.
The drought monster is there, lurking at the start of our dry season. Climate experts at Cornell University predict California and other semi-arid regions around the world are likely to have an overall decrease in rainfall in the coming years. In fact, the phrase “mega-drought” appears throughout the Cornell report. The entire Southwestern U.S. faces the same situation, which has social and economic ramifications of major significance.
For example, here on the Central Coast, a mega-drought could be catastrophic to local agriculture, which is Santa Barbara County’s top industry in terms of revenue production. Various climate models are predicting up to a 50-percent chance of a 35-year drought for California. That’s mega, no matter how you want to interpret it.
As regular readers are aware, our solution to drought problems in desalination, but that’s expensive and carries with it environmental concerns.
There are other ways to deal with drought. We can be more efficient about recycling waste water. We could increase our reservoir storage capacity, something that essentially hasn’t been done in California since the 1970s. It’s part of the basic infrastructure problem we all hear so much about.
We can do a better job of capturing some of the millions of acre-feet of rain water that rolls downhill to the sea.
In other words, we can be smarter about our future.