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Central, South Coasts get some impressive rainfall, but water experts say it's just a down payment on easing drought

Many parts of the Central and South Coasts have received above average rainfall to far this rainfall season, but experts are concerned we could still have a below average year if big storms don't continue to come our way.

Big start for the water year with above average rainfall to date. But there is concern about whether or not the needed additional storms will arrive in the region.

A series of storms dumped impressive amounts of rainfall on the Central and South Coasts during the last quarter of 2021. But, water experts say people need to understand what we've had is nothing close to being a drought buster.

There was a lot of excitement in the drought-stricken region. By the end of 2021, the news media was reporting that places like Camarillo had received 176% of normal-to-date rainfall, Oxnard 211%, and Santa Barbara 168%. But, water experts say many people are misunderstanding the nuances of the statistics.

"We're off to an excellent start, but we only have about 50% of what we need to hit average by the end of the water season in October." said Joe McDermott. He's the Director of Engineering and External Affairs for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

The district serves 70,000 customers in areas including Westlake Village and Agoura Hills. McDermott says the last year’s heavy rainfall left some people thinking the crisis was over.

"We would need at least a couple, two to three more storms like what we've had," said McDermott. "This has happened before where you have a great start, and that spigot gets turned off."

Many people on the Central and South Coasts don't understanding the source of their water, because it varies throughout the region. Some communities get water from places like Lake Cachuma, or Lake Casitas. But, they may also use groundwater, and might get state water project water. McDermott says in the case of Las Virgenes, they rely on state water funneled through the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District.

Much of it comes from Lake Oroville, which is only at 42% of its capacity right now.

So, even though the region is off to a good start, here’s a better idea of where we stand. In Ventura County, Ventura has received 57% of its normal rain season total, Thousand Oaks 58%, Fillmore 65%, and Casitas Dam 65%.

In Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara is at 51% of its annual rainfall total, Cachuma Dam at 51%, and Lompoc at 55%. And, Lake Cachuma less than half full, at 48% of capacity.

"We see the same things when we look out our windows that people see, which is rain and rain," said Mike McNutt, the Public Affairs & Communications Manager with the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

"It's natural for people to let their guard down." said McNutt. "Water agencies across the state are having problems, saying yes this rain is really, really beneficial, but we are by no means out of the wood yet."

Water experts say conservation needs to be a way of life in our region.

"We're going to have on and off years of some good precipitation, and we're going to have years of not enough," said McDermott.

He says the long term solution isn’t just securing more water, it’s also recycling. The water district is working on a project to purify, and reuse wastewater.

McDermott says a number of other water providers in the region like the City of Ventura have been investing in recycling.

He admits getting people to conserve, especially after we’ve had significant rainfall, is a tough task.

Water experts say even if we do get to 100% of average annual rainfall in the region, that’s not going to erase years of drought. It would ease it, but it could take years of rainfall to recharge depleted groundwater basins.

Their message is simple: even though it seems like we’ve had a lot of rain, and we have, we still need to conserve, because what we've seen is just a down payment towards ending the drought.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.