Although local conditions have improved in recent months, the city of Santa Barbara’s water supply still needs time to fully recover from the historic seven-year drought.
On Tuesday the Santa Barbara City Council will be asked to adopt a resolution declaring a Stage 1 water supply condition and to increase a professional services agreement with Bartkiewicz, Kronick & Shanahan by $100,000, for a total contract of $300,000, for specialized water rights-related legal services.
The council declared Stage 1 drought conditions in February 2014, followed by Stage 2 conditions in May 2014. In May 2015, in response to the driest consecutive four-year period on record, the council declared a Stage 3 drought emergency, which has since been amended with conservation targets and water use regulations in response to water supply conditions, according to a staff report.
Above-average rainfall this year has improved conditions and the city’s water supply forecast shows sufficient supply to meet customer demands through 2021, though conservation is required to “fully recover from the cumulative impacts of the seven-year historic drought,” the staff report reads.
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor says Santa Barbara County is no longer experiencing a drought.
Based on current and expected water supply conditions, city staff is recommending the council rescind the Stage 3 drought emergency and adopt a new resolution declaring a Stage 1 water supply condition.
At one point, the city’s water-use demand reductions ranged up to 40 percent. In March 2017, the condition was amended to a citywide conservation target of 30 percent reduction, compared to 2013 water demands, according to a staff report.
On Tuesday, city officials will provide an update to each of the city’s water supplies.
Local reservoirs have been replenished in recent months. Lake Cachuma storage is nearing 80 percent and Gibraltar Reservoir is full and spilling.
The city has been “resting” groundwater basins to allow them to recover, but it may take as long as 10 years before the basins are completely replenished.
The initial water supply allocation from the Cachuma Project of 20 percent was recently increased to 100 percent of normal maximum amount. While reservoir storage has improved, reservoir levels are still not sufficient to provide a full annual allocation throughout the city’s three-year water supply planning period. Reduced allocations are possible if lake levels decline, officials said.
The allocation from the State Water Project has been increased to 70 percent of normal, up from 35 percent. The city’s current water debt is 3,600 acre-feet and the city may use its annual allocations or additional purchases to pay down its water debt, according to officials.
The Charles E. Meyer Desalination facility has been in operation since summer 2017 and is providing nearly one-third of the city’s current demands. The city’s recycled water plant was shut down periodically last summer due to unexpected pipe failures, though temporary repairs have allowed the plant to operate while a more permanent fix is developed.
Staff has also initiated a pilot study for artificial recharge of treated water into the city’s groundwater basins.
The Stage 1 water supply condition will call for up to a 15 percent in water use reduction compared to 2013 water use. At the end of February, the city’s 12-month running average of water conservation was 30 percent compared to 2013 demands.
“The City is grateful for our customers making conservation a way of life, which has been so important during the historic drought, and will continue to be important going forward,” the city staff report reads. “Assuming no significant changes to our water supply strategy, staff will return to Council next spring to reassess the water supply condition and adjust water conservation targets as necessary, depending on the hydrologic condition next year.”
During a special meeting March 28, the city’s Water Commission voted 3-0 in support of reducing the drought declaration to Stage 1.
Water revenue for fiscal year 2018-19, which includes figures through February, is projected to come in under budget by approximately $1.2 million. The city’s water rates are for the three-year period from fiscal year 2017-18 to fiscal year 2019-20. The rate study assumed conditions would improve by fiscal year 2020, which is consistent with actual conditions.
City staff will be perform a rate study this summer for fiscal years 2020-21 to 2022-23 to reflect changes in the city’s water supply, according to a staff report.
The city has needed support from special counsel in water rights issues associated with water transfers, groundwater management, water rights from the Santa Ynez River and other related matters.
The existing contract with Bartkiewicz, Kronick & Shanahan has approximately $53,000 remaining. Staff is requesting an increase of $100,000 for ongoing matters. There are sufficient appropriations in the city’s water fund to cover the cost of the increase.
The council meeting is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.