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Environment and Energy

Santa Ynez Groundwater Basin users could soon see new water-use restrictions

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Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District
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Santa Ynez River Valley Groundwater Basin (DWR Bulletin 118 Basin No. 3-105) and SGMA Management Area boundaries within the Basin

The Santa Ynez River Valley Groundwater Basin runs from Lake Cachuma off Highway 154 out to the ocean near Lompoc. It’s used for urban water supply in Northern Santa Barbara County and in agriculture for things like wine grapes and vegetables.

Now, water users in the area may be required to comply with sustainable tactics to help manage the basin after years of consistent drought and overuse.

“Many parts of the basin are nearing historical lows,” said Santa Barbara County Water Agency Manager Matt Young.

He said the agency has a 20-year outline to manage and hopefully replenish the basin after approving three Groundwater Sustainability Plans.

Young said the plans are meant to help avoid things like chronic groundwater depletion, negative water quality impacts and seawater intrusion.

He said the local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, or GSA's are planning to implement certain tactics as soon as possible.

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Flickr member Damian Gadal
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A vineyard in the Santa Ynez area.

“Registering wells and then potentially requiring meters on those wells is going to be a very important first step,” Young said.
He said hard infrastructure projects, like better gathering stormwater or relocating water from elsewhere to physically replenish the groundwater supply, are also an option.

Young said the GSA's may offer incentives for water users to install efficient irrigation systems or transition to less water-intensive crops. He said water allocation programs could even be implemented to put a hard cap on water use.

Young said pumping reductions are just possibilities and the GSA's hope voluntary measures do enough to manage the groundwater. Still, he said, people are concerned about the future.

“A lot of it is just the uncertainty of, ‘Are these GSAs going to impose pumping reductions? Are they going to be charging us an arm and a leg to manage groundwater?’” Young said.

Young said groundwater basins in other areas of the state that have not been managed sustainably have seen cascading negative environmental and social impacts.

“There’s been excessive groundwater depletion that has drastically impacted local ecosystems, local domestic water users and local farmers,” Young said.

For more information about the basin’s sustainability plans, click here.

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