Santa Barbara’s available water supplies are sufficient to meet demands for at least the next three years, according to city officials.
That conclusion is part of an analysis included in an overview of the city’s water supplies to be presented by staff to the City Council today.
After the water supply update, council members will be asked to approve and adopt the city’s Water Supply Management Report for the 2022 Water Year, finding that Santa Barbara’s water supplies are in long-term balance with the city’s Enhanced Urban Water Management Plan.
Council members will meet in chambers, 735 Anacapa St., starting at 2 p.m.
Before it gets to the water supply update, the council will vote on its consent calendar, which includes allocating $50,000 to Habitat for Humanity to operate a one-year pilot program for low-income homeowners needing to make essential repairs to their homes.
The council’s Finance Committee unanimously endorsed the proposal. Its chair, Councilmember Eric Friedman, called it an “exciting opportunity” to assist some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes, to make repairs — including new roofs, plumbing or electric upgrades and bathroom remodels — needed to allow them to remain in their homes.
The council also is being asked on its consent calendar to approve a new employment agreement between the city and City Administrator Rebecca Bjork.
The existing bi-weekly salary range for the position of city administrator is $10,897.89 – $13,164.66. Under the new agreement, annual salary adjustments may be made administratively within this range.
Once the council approves its consent calendar, it will move through the rest of its agenda, including staff’s update regarding the city’s water supply.
The recent above-average rainfall in January has filled Gibraltar Reservoir to 100% capacity, staff said, adding that the reservoir began spilling over on Jan. 5. Lake Cachuma is also at capacity.
“The January storms have significantly improved the city’s water supply situation, eliminating the potential for a supply shortage for at least the next three years,” staff said.
Updates regarding the city’s water supply planning strategy are conservative to ensure water security for the community, staff said.
“This conservative planning approach allows staff to determine if the city has sufficient water to meet demands under three additional years of drought or during unanticipated supply interruptions due to equipment or infrastructure failure.
“The recent update to the city’s water supply planning strategy demonstrates that, even if drought conditions return next year or we experience supply interruptions, the city’s water demands can be met for at least the next three years (through WY 2025) using water from Lake Cachuma, Gibraltar Reservoir, Mission Tunnel infiltration, desalination, and recycled water.”
A full Gibraltar Reservoir and a nearly full Lake Cachuma mean the city can primarily rely on its surface water supplies over the next several years to meet community demands, staff said.
However, conservatively assuming drought conditions return next year and persist for the next three years, the city should continue to embrace conservation as a way of life, staff said.
The analysis provided in the report is based on the city’s specific water supply conditions, regardless of statewide requirements.
Based on the above-average precipitation received through the end of January, staff plans to return to the Water Commission and council in the spring with revisions that reflect the city’s improved water supply situation and the state’s amended regulations.
In its report to council, staff reviewed in detail each city water source that contributes to the city’s water supply.
One of the most important indicators of the city’s water supply status is storage in Lake Cachuma, which ended Water Year 2022 at 36% capacity. Key issues for Lake Cachuma are the Cachuma Project State Water Rights Order, Cachuma Project Biological Opinion and Cachuma Contract 2020.
In WY 2022, the city received 1,626 acre feet of water from Gibraltar Reservoir. At the end of WY 2022, Gibraltar was functionally empty and ready to capture winter rains. After recent storms, it is now full and spilling.
Siltation related to the 2007 Zaca Fire, the 2016 Rey Fire and the 2017 Thomas Fire has resulted in a significant reduction in storage capacity in Gibraltar. A survey performed in August 2021 indicates Gibraltar has a maximum storage capacity of 4,693 acre feet, which is approximately one-third of its original capacity.
As for the city’s groundwater basins, the city now increases pumping during droughts when surface water is limited. In response to recent drought conditions, increased groundwater pumping in WYs 2015 through 2018 provided an important water supply, staff said.
The city has been resting its groundwater basins since the spring of 2017, and has relied more on surface water supplies and desalinated water.
“The city plans to continue using groundwater supplies through the next three Water Years should dry conditions persist,” staff said. “Based on the remaining estimated yields of the basins, groundwater resources are in long-term balance, and groundwater production does not exceed the estimated basin yield.”
The city also relies on water provided through the State Water Project.
Due to drought conditions, the 2022 SWP allocation was historically low at 5% of … contract amounts, which is 165 acre feet for the city. Fortunately, the city has been able to store an additional 734 acre feet in unused State Water Project water in the San Luis Reservoir.
The city also purchased 862 acre feet of supplemental water in 2022, which again was stored in the San Luis Reservoir. The city used 384 acre feet of SWP water to supply its customers in WY 2022. It also exchanged 139 AF of SWP water for Cachuma allocation with the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, pursuant to the exchange agreement between both parties.
Currently, the city has approximately 1,200 acre feet of SWP water stored in the San Luis Reservoir.
Then there’s desalinated water.
In response to the severity of the recent drought, the city reactivated the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant in 2017, which has a production capacity of 3,125 acre feet per year. The city-owned plant delivered 2,874 acre feet of desalinated water to the city’s water system in 2022
In February 2021, council changed the role of desalinated water within the city’s water supply portfolio from a drought relief/recovery supply to a drought preparedness, response and recovery supply.
“Due to the continuous production of desalinated water since the plant’s reactivation, the city has been able to store much of its Cachuma allocation in Lake Cachuma as carryover water,” staff said.
As a result, the city currently has nearly two years’ worth (over 18,000 acre feet) of water demand stored in Lake Cachuma, “which provides water supply security and stretches water supplies for future dry years,” staff said.
The city also factors its upgraded recycled water filtration plant into its water supply calculations. The goal of this project was to eliminate or significantly reduce the need to use potable water for blending to meet Title 22 water quality requirements.
In 2022, the city supplied recycled water customers with 981 acre feet of water and 21 acre feet of potable blend water, marking a continued significant reduction in potable water use due to the project.
“Recycled water is an important component of the city’s water supply portfolio since every drop of recycled water used to irrigate landscapes or flush toilets offsets potable water that would have been used instead,” staff said.
Finally, the water update talks about water conservation.
The city’s Water Conservation Program functions to minimize the use of potable water supplies, meet the requirements of the California Water Efficiency Partnership Best Management Practices, and achieve compliance with state mandates, staff said. Water conservation measures are evaluated for cost-effectiveness based on the avoided cost of additional water supplies.
In WY 2022, city customers continued conserving water at high levels (25% compared to 2013 pre-drought water demands).
“The total water supply produced in WY 2022 was 11,450 acre feet, with 91 gallons used per person per day,” staff said. “The community continues to make water conservation a way of life, with the total demand for water in 2022 comparable to demands in the late 1950s.”