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Santa Barbara water crisis reaches historic levels with no signs of 'Miracle March' relief

Randol White - KCBX News

Santa Barbara's primary water source during a normal year, Lake Cachuma, will figuratively run dry as early as October according to official estimates. This would be the first time in the project's history.

Water will still be in the lake, but there will be no new usable water, according to Joshua Haggmark, the City of Santa Barbara's Water Resources Manager.

To address the growing problem, a Stage III drought could be issued in May for Santa Barbara customers, which would move rationing from voluntary to mandatory.

Haggmark says he's never seen it this bad, and current drought statistics eclipse the drought numbers from previous dry stretches, including the area's 'drought of record' from the late 1940s and early 50s.

He says forward planning however has helped extend current supplies.

"If we continue to conserve, we feel like we have enough water right now to get us through next year," said Haggmark. "We're thinking about 2017 now and that's where desal plays a critical role. If we don't find another supply to help us out in 2017 and these conditions continue, we're looking at devastating shortages."

The desalination plant—or "desal"—Haggmark mentioned was built in the 90s, but was mothballed after years of sufficient rain totals. 

The plant could start producing water again as early as the fall of 2016.

Water rates are expected to jump this July to pay for the necessary upgrades to the plant, as well as other drought-related fixes. A rate hike approval vote is scheduled for Tuesday, March 17.