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Winter storms filled Santa Barbara County reservoirs, but groundwater and flooding challenges remain

 Cachuma Lake, a local reservoir in Santa Barbara County becomes nearly full after January's storms / NatureShutterbug
Cachuma Lake, a local reservoir in Santa Barbara County becomes nearly full after January's storms

Last month the Central Coast was hit with heavy rainfall, filling Santa Barbara County’s reservoirs and nearly overflowing its creeks. This week, local officials assessed the impacts.

Walter Rubalcava is the Deputy Director of Public Works. He said the January winter storm produced about 120% of the normal rainfall in Santa Barbara County for the entire year.

During a presentation to the Montecito Planning Commission, he pointed to a picture of Lake Cachuma, one of the county’s reservoirs.

“We went from about 35% full to 81% full in a 48 hour period, but we've had continuous inflow since then, so we're right near a hundred percent right now. Jameson is near full as well,” Rubalcava said.

According to the State Department of Water Resources, California’s reservoirs supply water to 27 million residents and millions of acres of farmland. Rubalcava said the most common question he has been hearing is whether the drought is over.

“The answer is no. Both county and statewide reservoirs have significantly improved but there's still a heavy reliance on groundwater, which most underground basins will likely not see a significant improvement due to this last rain event,” Rubalcava said.

Rubalcava also gave an update on Santa Barbara County’s creeks. He said because of the heavy rainfall, many of the creeks throughout the county nearly flooded.

“This is Montecito Creek near Hot Springs. Just Downstream of Casa Grande. What happens if this overfills? This water would have rushed down Olive Mill, likely flooding homes,” Rubalcava said.

Right now, the county is working with FEMA to make sure flooding doesn’t happen in the future. The county’s Public Works Department says about 30 million dollars from FEMA will help improve flood control along creeks and other water resources.

Yesterday, Santa Barbara’s disaster recovery center in Goleta closed. However, its Santa Maria center will stay open until February 26. March 16 is the last day to register for financial recovery at

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.
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