How wet was January? Try 25" to 30" of rainfall in parts of the Tri-Counties!
But, experts say we are still in the drought zone.
It wasn’t a drought-busting month as some people might think, but January’s rainfall totals for the Tri-Counties are amazing, in the 25 to 30" range.
In Ventura County, Lake Casitas had 18.6” of rain, Ojai 15.7”, Santa Paula 13”, and Ventura 8.8”.
In Santa Barbara County, San Marcos Pass had an amazing 31” of rain in January. Gibraltar Dam received 25” last month, Santa Barbara 14.5”, and Santa Ynez 12”.
And in San Luis Obispo County, Nipomo had more than 7” of rain, and Rocky Butte 29.9”.
While the numbers are impressive, we are still in the drought zone. The federal U.S. drought monitor map still has the Central and South Coasts in the abnormally dry to moderate drought range.
For instance, while Lake Casitas had 18.6” of rain, it’s still less than half full. In January, it went from 31% to its current 44% of capacity.
In Santa Barbara County, the situation is a little brighter. Gibraltar Dam is full, Lake Cachuma is at 99% of capacity, and Jamison Reservoir is also at capacity. But, water experts say it will take us years of wet weather to restore our often overlooked, but severely depleted groundwater basins.
Water agencies say while it feels backwards after January’s rain, we still need to think drought, and conservation
Meanwhile, recovery efforts from the January 9 storm continue in the region. Neighborhoods in Los Osos, Guadalupe, and Orcutt are among those hardest hit. And, there are lots of other issues, ranging from damaged roads to creeks jammed with debris. Public Works crews in the region have been working non-stop to prepare for the next big storm.
Walter Rubalcava is Director of the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District.
"We are in good shape," said Rubalcava. "We try to act as if rain is coming tomorrow. We are operating at full throttle, especially to clear the basins and main channels."
He said they've had about 60 projects in the wake of January's big storm, and the roads team has many as well. They have a priority list of what needs to be done to prepare for another storm, as well as restoring key access to things like roads for county residents
Much of the focus of the January 9tstorm was on Montecito, which was hit five years ago to the very day by a deadly debris flow which killed 23 people, and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes.
That storm came as the massive Thomas Fire was still burning in the mountains above the community, stripping vegetation and setting the stage for the disaster.
Five years later, with vegetation regrown and a number of flood control projects in place, the community handled the big storm well.
"We had resources in place, what we anticipated occurring occurred, and we had people to plug into those issues," said Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor. "I think it goes without saying that the flood control system performed magnificently, and caught 500,000 cubic yards of material."
He said while much of the focus has been on Montecito Creek and San Ysidro Creek, which caused the biggest problems five years ago, they are also monitoring a number of other waterways which could pose unexpected problems.
"Every single drainage in Montecito proper is a concern for us," said Taylor. "We contracted with an engineering firm to identify debris flow and clear water flooding risks." The result is they have maps highlighting what needs to be monitored during significant storms.
Taylor admits that compared to many other Fire Departments, being prepared for flooding is as significant as dealing with wildfires. But, he says it literally goes with the community’s unique, and scenic mountain to ocean terrain.
Public works and public safety crews say they have been taking advantage of the break in major storms for the last few weeks to do additional preparations. They point out that while some communities in the region have already topped their annual average rainfall totals, we still have four months left where we could see significant rainfall