Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 6
The Bureau of Reclamation stops state water flow into Cachuma
BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
With Lake Cachuma’s water level sitting at 38 percent capacity just before summer, the reservoir needs every ounce of water it can get. Although the Central Coast Water Authority (CCWA) has been steadily adding state water to the lake since January, the agency received notice on April 4 from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to stop.
“So we’re shut off,” CCWA Executive Director Ray Stokes said.
Being shut off and unable to push water into the lake is a big deal for Stokes.
First of all, there hasn’t been enough rain to recharge the reservoir in three years, so the lake is super low—to the point that the Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board is installing a pumping system to get water out of the lake for Southern Santa Barbara County. Maintenance Board Manager Randall Ward said the lake is at 702 feet of elevation, and when it gets to 682 feet, they’ll have to begin pumping because the system will no longer be able to work on gravity. That’s all scheduled to happen in September.
Secondly, California isn’t making any State Water Project deliveries this year. At the moment, South County’s water future is dependent on leftover state water from last year. That water is being held in San Luis Reservoir, and the CCWA was been siphoning off what’s left of last year’s allocation at the rate of 50 acre-feet per day since January. But the Bureau of Reclamation took over the pumping facility CCWA was using to get that state water into the lake, so that water flow is now stagnant.
The CCWA is also in the process of finding water to purchase from other parts of the state. Stokes said his agency needs about 9,000 more acre-feet of water to add to state water.
“[South County] needs that water, and they need it to be in the lake,” Stokes said. “Otherwise, they’re going to run out of water.”
The reason the Bureau of Reclamation took over the facility? It’s about water releases that are required to maintain habitat for steelhead trout, an endangered species. The bureau is legally required to push 3.8 cubic feet per second into Hilton Creek, downstream from Lake Cachuma’s Bradbury Dam, during the winter months. Every year, on April 1, that legal water requirement changes to 4.6 cubic feet per second. This year, the bureau couldn’t fulfill that extra 0.8 cubic feet per second without taking over the facility CCWA uses to bring state water into the lake.
The problem has to do with two pumps, which have the express purpose of pumping water into Hilton Creek—as well as farther downstream in the Santa Ynez River—for the fish. One of the pumps has been broken since October 2013.
Bureau spokesperson Margaret Gidding said the bureau is working to address the broken pump, which is worse off than they originally thought. The other pump has been intermittently working. The water flow for steelhead has stopped 10 times in the last year, and 176 endangered steelhead trout have been stranded and died because of that occasional lack of water.
Without two consistently working pumps, the bureau is unable to fulfill that legally required water allocation for fish in Hilton Creek and the Santa Ynez River. Since the bureau commandeered the other facility, the fish are getting the water they need—and the CCWA is now the fish out of water.
Stokes said the CCWA is in the process of getting a work-around installed, and state water should be getting pumped back into Cachuma by April 19. But the work-around comes at a cost.
“If they had both those pumps operational, then we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Stokes said. “This is going to cost us $35,000 to install this pump, and an additional $3,000 a month to operate it.”