Local geologist’s new book explores local resources
Over his four-decade career working as a geologist and hydrogeologist through his geological consulting firm Hoover Consulting, Santa Barbara resident Mike Hoover has learned a great deal about local water resources and is spending his retirement years getting the information he knows into books.
In his latest book, “Drought & Flood: The History of Water in Santa Barbara and Montecito,” Mr. Hoover argues two primary theses: That Santa Barbara has been short of water for hundreds of years with very few respites of sufficient water, and that putting a measure for desalination on the same ballot as the State Water Project in 1991 was a “horrible mistake.”
The geologist told the News-Press that because he worked in the field of water resources for so many years, writing the book didn’t take very long.
There were some aspects of the book’s subject matter that he had to research, however.
These include the contents of the book’s first section exploring the geologic history of the area that is now Santa Barbara County, and early examples of water use from people such as the Chumash Indians and Franciscans of the Santa Barbara Mission.
Another subject he had to look into extensively was climate.
“I didn’t know much about climate, and that’s one I had to research quite a bit,” he said.
Illustrating his book’s argument that drought in Santa Barbara is a norm and wet cycles are the exception is its chapter on drought response measures such as dams.
According to its section on the creation of Bradbury Dam, which forms the reservoir Lake Cachuma, the dam was created to meet Santa Barbara’s water needs when it was determined that the Gibraltar Dam wouldn’t accomplish this like expected.
“In 1920, it seemed that Gibraltar Dam would address all of Santa Barbara’s water needs in perpetuity. Because of stiltation and drought, Gibraltar Lake was drying up in less than one decade,” it read.
According to Mr. Hoover, when the Cachuma Project was completed in 1953, it was widely thought that it too would be a permanent answer to the area’s water shortage. That, of course, turned out to not be true.
“Everybody thought we were done when we filled Lake Cachuma, but they were wrong,” he said.
At present, Mr. Hoover believes that Santa Barbara is in good shape as far as water supply is concerned because of the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant, which was reactivated in 2017 after more than decades of sitting idle.
The book explains that the $30 million desalination plant was a victim of “the cyclic nature of Santa Barbara’s weather.”
Before the plant was constructed, Santa Barbara had been in seven years of drought. The 15 years after its construction were characterized by generally above average rainfall, and in 1997 Santa Barbara residents were paying $500 per acre foot for water from Lake Cachuma, which was overflowing into the ocean.
The cost for the desalination plant’s water was $2,000 per acre foot, and the plant was taken offline in 1997 and partially deconstructed.
Mr. Hoover added that putting both desalination and participation in the State Water Project on the 1991 ballot was a mistake. The State Water Project brings water from central California through a system of pipelines into Santa Barbara.
He explained this was a wrong move because people thought that the State Water Project pipelines would supply Santa Barbara with water when the region was in a drought, not realizing that the areas Santa Barbara was depending on would also be in a drought.
“When we’re dry, they’re dry,” Mr. Hoover said.
By learning about the consequences of passing both desalination and participation in the State Water Project, Mr. Hoover hopes his readers will see that it’s important for voters to be cautious when approving new projects.
The other major takeaway he hopes his book gives readers is “not to take water resources for granted.”