Conserving Water During Santa Barbara Drought

Venturelli Group September 3, 2014

Santa Barbara's Lake Cachuma is experiencing its lowest water levels in 60 years.
Santa Barbara’s Lake Cachuma is experiencing its lowest water levels in 60 years.

As summer comes to a close and fall (hopefully) beckons milder weather and rain going into winter, the third year of drought enters Stage Two Conditions. It is imperative to follow drought regulations currently in place as every drop saved is an effort towards conservation, not only for the city and county of Santa Barbara, but for the State of California as well.

The Santa Barbara City Council declared a Stage Two Drought Condition on May 20, 2014, in response to the driest consecutive three years on record, triggering drought-related water use regulations. Previously, on February 11, 2014, a Stage One Drought Condition was declared by the same city council. There has been no word on added sanctions or a Stage Three movement as of this date.

At the Capitol, the State Water Resources Control Board approved unprecedented emergency regulations on July 16 that allow local law enforcement and water agencies to impose a maximum $500-a-day fine on those who are neglectful in abiding the reduced watering program. As California lawmakers work to overhaul California’s longstanding “pump-as-you-please” groundwater policy, Gov. Jerry Brown was presented with several packages of bills to address the worst drought in a generation and require some local governments to develop groundwater-management plans and allows the state to intervene if necessary.

Groundwater accounts for 60 percent of California’s water use during drought years, yet it is not as regulated and closely managed as water tapped from reservoirs, rivers and streams. The pumping has been so great in recent years that wells are running dry and land is compressed as soil becomes drained of water content. Supporters of the bills say this cause and effect has led to billions of dollars in damage to roads, aqueducts, canals and pipelines.

Also in February, the Montecito Water District announced new water conservation regulations that went into effect immediately and required customers to cut water use by 30 percent. At that time, a rationing plan also was being considered. People are no longer allowed to water their yards in the middle of the day, drain and refill swimming pools, or serve water restaurants without a customer request.

Furthermore, Ordinance 92 allows one written warning for violations and then a $250 fine, which doubles with every new violation up to a maximum of $1,000. To date, Santa Barbara County received only about 45 percent of its normal rainfall. The hot summer weather did not do us any favors. Near Santa Ynez Valley, Lake Cachuma is at its lowest level in 60 years. At 9,000 acres, Cachuma is the county’s largest supplier of water and provided 35 percent of the county’s total supply in 2012. Below is a graph of the annual, county-wide rainfall:

Click to View Larger Image

Could Rain be in our Forecast? There may be a silver lining in the clouds we have off our shores in 2015 as The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast a moderate to strong El Niño rainfall next year. The last major El Niño, in 1997 to 1998, brought more than 200 percent above normal rainfall to Southern California. The most recent El Niño hit in 2009 to 2010 and brought moderate amounts of rain. The Center for Climate Prediction and International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University predicted a 52 percent probability of El Niño developing by fall, with a 41 percent chance of weather conditions remaining neutral.

In the meantime, and with no significant rainfall on the horizon, follow these tips at home to save water, and grow a beautiful garden for your perfect home.

Drip systems are easy to install and are most cost-effective as a drip irrigation system when connected to an outside water tap. These work by slowly dripping water at the root level of plants and trees without run-off or evaporation.

Rainwater runoff drain systems are very useful in the collection of rainwater into large buckets that can then be repurposed to water landscaping. A rainwater system is simple and can be customized to suit individual needs. Here is how to make one:

Rain Barrel

1. Gutters gather rain water which drains into a funnel.
2. The rainwater passes through a screen that removes debris, and then funnels into the top of the covered tank.
3. The storage rain barrel tank should be dark in color to prevent algae from growing and a screen secured in place over the top.

4. Attach a hose near the bottom of the barrel for ease of use.

Rain Barrel1. Gutters gather rain water which drains into a funnel.

Hardscapes are a great way to build an attractive outdoor space with stones, walkways and patios. These areas require little to no watering. You may use unique and interesting materials such as brick without mortar, flagstone, patio blocks, bricks and decomposed granite.

Succulents in gardens, walk ways and outdoor living spaces grow wonderfully in Santa Barbara’s temperate climate, are fire resistant and and require low amounts of water. Shapes, colors and sizes vary, from very small to the size of a coffee table and range in color from orange, yellow, pink, purple, turquoise, blue, and more.

Mulch saves water by retaining moisture in the soil. As a layer of mulch is added on the surface, moisture is retained below. Adding two to four inches of mulch protects plant roots and adds a fresh layer to garden aesthetics.

Greywater systems reuse water that drains from showers and sinks to water gardens. The Environmental Protection Agency says the average home in the U.S. uses close to 280 gallons of water per day. More than half of this water can be used for home irrigation. Most people define gray water as the tap water soiled by use in washing machines, tubs, showers and sinks. Even though water is not sanitary, it is non-toxic and generally disease-free.

Greywater System












Source: City of Santa Barbara, Montecito Water District,,, State Water Resources Control Board,

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