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Drought May Be Easing Statewide, But Crisis Continues In Ventura And Santa Barbara Counties

A creek which flows into drought stricken Lake Casitas is full, sending a torrent of water into the important water source for part of Ventura County.

While the flow of water is impressive, as you head to the lake itself, it’s shocking to see how much it’s shrunk. It’s down by more than 60%.

Ron Merckling, with the Casitas Municipal Water District, says that while drought conditions have eased for most of the state, the crisis continues for much of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. He says Lake Casitas, Lake Cachuma, and Lake Piru have seen little relief from the drought.

Merckling says the media coverage about the status of the drought statewide has lured many people in our region to thinking it’s over locally, especially after we’ve had a long series of storms.

Making the situation more confusing is the fact that while some water districts on the Central and South Coasts get some state water project water from Northern California, others like the Casitas District rely on local lakes and underground water, which are dependent on rainfall.

Lake Casitas has about 22 inches of rain on average annually. For the last five years, it’s been averaging around 10 inches of rainfall. Despite the recent rainfall, it’s still only a little over a third full: 37% to be exact.

Merckling says the little storms that we’ve been having help, but that we need some major ones to really make a difference. While the lake has received 15 inches of rain so far this season, it would take 25 inches more just to get the lake to 50% of its capacity.

As a sidebar to all of this, the water district has received numerous calls about people concerned about water diversion, but Merckling says small amounts have to be made to meet the needs of downstream users and wildlife.

He says while they are hopeful we’ll get some major storms during the next three months, people need to think about water conservation.

The number one thing people can do is turn off their irrigation systems, because there’s more than enough rainfall to keep landscaping healthy. The district serves more than 65,000 people in the county, and supplies water to other water districts.

The district is also considering tapping into the state water supply and using more groundwater, since it’s being refilled by the rain.

Merckling says, should we fail to get significant rain during the rest of the rainfall season, it could mean even tighter water use restrictions.  For now, he says the bottom line is people need to conserve water, even though the rain might make it seem like it's no longer an issue.