The current drought in California has commanded the attention of many and as we continue to see minimal rain here in Santa Barbara and throughout the state, this is not an issue that we will be disengaging from anytime soon. This particular drought began in 2012 and is the worst drought in 1,200 years. This year also marks an all-time record low for snow pack levels in the Sierras amounting to an equivalent of 24 billion gallons of water loss. For a striking visual perception of the drought, Click Here to view an article which compares photos of California’s water sources just before the drought in 2011 and their recent state, in 2014.
All-time low snow pack levels in the Sierras amount to an equivalent of 24 billion gallons of water loss for the state.
Limited rainfall has caused our water reservoirs to become depleted and over drafting of groundwater is underway. Looking at our future, “the 2016-2017 water year is looking dire…assuming that there will be no surface water coming from Lake Cachuma, the State Water Project or Jameson Lake.” State-wide, Governor Jerry Brown has issued a mandate that urban water use must be reduced 25 percent below 2013 levels by February 2016. To put this all in perspective, NASA estimates, “it would take 11 trillion gallons of water to get us out of drought,” and it is these types of severities that are causing people to seek for solutions to this complicated problem.
Water levels at Lake Cachuma linger at 28% capacity with the aid of local conservation efforts and water externally purchased and pumped in from the state
Recently, Santa Barbara increased to Stage 3 drought regulations, which call for stringent water use restrictions and increased water rates. Conservation techniques are another alleviation, which Santa Barbara residents are implementing effectively. In the month of May, residents conserved an astounding 37%, bringing reduction efforts up to 24% since last July and only 1% away from the city’s goal (go SB!). Santa Barbara also holds the lead for highest conservation rates in the state, but we must also consider what else may lie in the near future for our community. If the drought persists and there is no water available for purchase, the city needs another fallback.
The Santa Barbara desalination facility was built in 1991 yet has never been used. Reactivation of the SB plant is in the works and Montecito is considering building its own, new plant to curtail the persistent drought. There is some resistance concerning plant costs, timing, energy intensity, water prices and the potentially harmful effects inflicted on aquatic organisms.
Desalination has been a topic of discussion as the vast ocean near our homes provokes its consideration as a potential water source; after all, 97.5% of all the water on Earth is sea water. Click here to watch a 30-second informational video explaining the process of desalination. For a smaller Santa Barbara community like Montecito, drought relief options are limited and, aside from increased water rates, desalination seems a viable recourse. According to Montecito general manager, Tom Mosby, “Santa Barbara expects to get its desalination facility operational next year [and] if it’s approved by the state and the Santa Barbara City Council moves forward, Montecito could get emergency permit status by the end of 2016 for its own facility.” A new Montecito plant would cost between $60 and $80 million and in conjunction with the Santa Barbara plant, “could handle almost all the city’s water needs”; but only as long as residents continuation their conservation and cut their existing usage by 25%.
– The drought is very serious and even with some recent minor rainfall, residents must keep in the mind that this issue has not been overcome. There is a 70% likelihood that the drought will persist.
– Santa Barbara locals are responding productively to water restrictions and conservation efforts yet that does not mean we should ease up on conservation techniques and implementation – this is an ongoing endeavor. For further tips and information regarding reduction of your water consumption, visit the Santa Barbara County Water Conservation page by clicking here.
– Desalination is only a complementary aid to water conservation, and efforts are underway to recommission the Santa Barbara plant as well as construct a new plant for Montecito; however, this may be costly, energy-intensive and it is questionable whether or not the plants will be ready and functioning before the drought is over.
– Effect on the real estate market: Water allotments per parcel are tightening and causing buyers to reconsider their water sources and water use (on average in California, almost 50% of total residential water use is for the outdoors/landscaping). Now more than ever, buyers are placing high value on wells and also drought-considerate landscaping in order to remain within these allotments.