Cachuma Lake stays shallow as other area reservoirs rise

Jan 11, 2017

Earlier this week, KCBX reported water reservoirs on the Central Coast have been getting a much-needed recharge from the past month’s rainstorms.

Several reservoirs, like Lopez Lake and Lake Nacimiento, have increased by many acre feet. Lopez has seen a rise of six feet in elevation since the fourth of January. Nacimiento rose 23 feet in that same amount of time and 12 feet in just the past three days.

However, reservoirs on the southern Central Coast haven’t been receiving nearly as much of a refill. Specifically, Lake Cachuma, which serves the Santa Ynez Valley, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria.

KCBX spoke with Tom Fayram with the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department. Fayram says the atmospheric rivers hitting Northern California hard just haven’t been as intense for the southern Central Coast.

"They got the focus of the rain," Fayram said. "We just haven't had things lined up, necessarily our way, so far this year to take advantage of that."

Fayram said places like the Nacimiento Reservoir have received around 12 inches of rain in a period of 24 hours.

"And we don't even have 12 inches on the ground for the season here behind Cachuma," he said.

It’s still early in the winter season and the next couple of months are, on average years, Fayram said, when the rain starts to pour into the lake.

"We have a lot of our winter ahead of us," Fayram said. "Which is different this year than other past years. With the drought we were always hoping to scratch out a little bit of water at the very end of our winter."

Fayram said despite the low amount of elevation rise for Cachuma, it is currently receiving 125 percent of what the area normally receives for rainfall.

"So that's the first time we've been in a position where we've been ahead of the normal," Fayram said.

Looking into the future, Fayram said it’s difficult to guess whether or not we will get to see any reservoirs fill to capacity or spill over. But he’s hopeful.

"That's like asking will the stock market go up or down," he said. "Because it really matters on what the weather does. We've seen years in the past where we could fill Lake Cachuma very easily in one year."

He said it’s beneficial to see back-to-back storms, even if they are relatively milder for Santa Barbara County than Northern California.

Heading up north, Robert Johnson from the Monterey County Water Resources Agency said even with heavier amounts of rainfall in those areas, it’s difficult to predict whether or not the reservoirs up on the northern Central Coast are going to fill to capacity, either.

"That's challenging to guesstimate or forecast because we don't know what the storms are coming. It doesn't fill every year," Johnson said.

You can find current reservoir data for San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties here:

- San Luis Obispo County Water Resources

- Monterey County Water Resource Agency

- Santa Barbara County Flood Control District