Monday, December 10, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 40

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 17th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 33

County chasing millions in grants for stormwater resource projects


The Santa Maria River is one of the major watersheds targeted by Santa Barbara County as it pursues grants for its Integrated Stormwater Resource Plan.

Santa Barbara County officials are scrambling to receive public input on a stormwater resources plan as the window for grants to fund the program threatens to slam shut.

“We anticipate the next round of grant implementation grant funding to come out next fall,” the county’s Water Resources Program Manager Matt Young told the Sun, “so our goal is to have this plan in place with a list of projects ready to go so all the cooperating entities can chase grant funding at that time.”

The county is pursuing up to $200 million in matching grants by way of the Water Quality Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act (Proposition 1) and needs to have its stormwater plan to the state by Oct. 25. Counties across the state have been pursuing similar resource plans following Senate Bill 985’s passage in 2014, which requires the development of stormwater resource plans in order to receive grant funds. The grant application process for SB 985 was set up for counties to identify and prioritize multiple benefit stormwater (and dry weather) runoff projects that improve regional water self-reliance and adapt to the effects on water supply stemming from climate change.

The legislation came about amid a prolonged drought that saw state groundwater, reservoir, and surface supplies drop to record lows. And while most of the state slipped out of extreme drought status following record winter rains, Santa Barbara County is still mired in its fifth year of at least moderate drought conditions. Avery Blackwell, a program manager for Geosyntec Consultants, which the county contracted with to develop its stormwater plan, said the goal is to help recharge groundwater, improve its quality, and capture surface water that would otherwise run into the ocean during storms.

“We got a lot of rain last year, but it’s still not that [much],” Blackwell told stakeholders in Santa Maria on Oct. 12. “We have significant ongoing issues—groundwater levels are still low. So we need a plan that addresses those issues.”

Santa Barbara County’s Integrated Stormwater Resource Plan (SWRP) is a regional, watershed-based plan intended to improve the management of stormwater resources throughout the county, according to Santa Barbara water agency officials. The plan involves eight other cooperating entities, which includes five cities (Buellton, Carpinteria, Goleta, Guadalupe, and Solvang); three water districts (Carpinteria Valley, Goleta, and Montecito); and UC Santa Barbara.

The plan’s purpose is to identify water system improvements that increase reliance on local water supplies, according to the water agency’s website. Officials say system improvements could be achieved through stormwater and dry weather runoff capture projects; surface water treatment facilities; and green—environmentally friendly—infrastructure.

At two meetings with stakeholders during the week of Oct. 10, Blackwell said that the Santa Maria River, San Antonio Creek, South Coast River, and Santa Ynez watersheds had already been targeted as key areas of focus for potential projects.

Rain but no relief
Santa Maria saw nearly 20 inches of rain through Aug. 31, 2017—one of the highest on record for a water season in the valley, which starts over at the beginning of each October. The wettest year on record for the city was 1998, when more than 32 inches of rain fell. Santa Barbara saw more than 26 inches of rain this past year through August. In 1998, the city was pounded by nearly 45 inches of rain.

Despite the winter storms soaking the parched coastline, the protracted stretch of drought took a toll on county water supplies. All four of the county’s major reservoirs were below 60 percent capacity, according to a Rainfall and Reservoir Summary report released on Sept. 18 by the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District. Gibraltar and Jameson reservoirs both sat just above 50 percent capacity, while Lake Cachuma held only 45 percent of its capacity, and Twitchell Reservoir held 25 percent.

The surface water issue is further complicated by the county’s groundwater supplies, which the agriculture industry relies on to pick up the slack in dry years.

“All of our groundwater basins in the county are relied upon for significant water supply,” Santa Barbara County Water Agency Manager Fray Crease told the Sun. “Some of those are having a little more challenges maintaining their sustainability, but this leads into the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which is ultimately designed to bring those groundwater basins into balance.”

The last Santa Barbara County groundwater report released in 2011 found the Cuyama, Santa Maria, San Antonio, and Santa Ynez groundwater basins were in overdraft, or having more water removed than replaced. Lompoc’s three basins, along with Buellton’s and the South Coast basins, were all found to be in equilibrium.

And although the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act should address most below-surface water issues, county and state water officials contend the SWRP will further establish water resources infrastructure, supply, and management. They add that the moves are necessary given the likelihood of more extreme droughts in the future.

“It’s always important when the county is looking for not only additional sources of water, but ways we can improve our water quality,” Crease said. “We’ve always had a stormwater program, Project Clean Water, but this really is sort of bringing those efforts together with the water supply world.”

The city of Santa Maria already has a plan in place, but city officials say they will work cooperatively to help the county achieve its goals when the time comes.

“Even though we are not a cooperating entity, we fully support these projects and a stormwater resource plan for county and any projects that may occur in our area,” Municipal Stormwater Manager Katie Keefe said at the Oct. 12 meeting in Santa Maria addressing the county plan.

Crease noted the county would incorporate the Santa Maria plan into the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, which was completed in 2013. She said the SWRP will help solidify already existing plans to give the county a more cohesive strategy when tackling its myriad water issues.

“We are not creating this plan in a vacuum, we are coming alongside a lot of existing plans that have already been done,” Geosyntec’s Blackwell told stakeholders at the meeting. “We’ve done this before. … We worked with Ventura County to develop the first stormwater resource program in the state.”

After submitting project proposals at the end of this month, the county will move to project identification and prioritization, with a tentative date to submit that piece of the application by mid-December. From there, the county hopes to submit a draft report by the end of January and allow partner agencies to review the draft.

Once the various water agencies have submitted their comments, a draft SWRP will be released to the public. The county will then address any comments and concerns before submitting a final draft by the end of June 2018.

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