Last rainfall season was a big one for the Central and South Coasts, with above average rainfall for many drought impacted local communities.

Oxnard had 135% of average rainfall, Ojai 121%, and Lake Cachuma recorded136% of normal rainfall.  But, could we be headed back to a drought year? 

Santa Barbara County photo

After years at a critical level, the water crisis in Santa Barbara is not the issue it used to be.

At one point, the main drinking water supply, Cachuma Lake, was down to 7% capacity.

The wet winter has now pushed the lake to 80% capacity, the highest it's been in years.

We’re having one of the best rainfall seasons in years, with drought conditions easing for much of the state.

But one of the nation’s leading oceanographers says there’s much more involved before the impacts of the drought are completely gone, and that it could take years to replenish groundwater supplies.

A South Coast water district is cautioning that despite a huge surge in its water supply due to recent storms, Ventura County is still in the grip of drought.

United Water Conservation District officials say Lake Piru’s water level has doubled over the last two months, rising more than 30 feet. But they note it’s still only 39% full, and it would take another 180,000 acre feet of water to fill it.

We’ve had some impressive amounts of rainfall this water year, and the good news is that it’s come with only minimal flooding, and debris flow problems in brush fire burn zones. Many Central and South Coast communities have already reached 75% to 90% of their average annual water year rainfall. But, water experts say we are still a long way from breaking the drought cycle.

Another year of drought means we’re all once again being asked to conserve.

But, it’s not as easy for farmers on the Central and South Coasts, who need to use groundwater to supplement scarce rainfall. In Ventura County, hundreds of farmers are taking part in a unique water market program.

Even with a winter season that had a major storm event, Santa Barbara is not making enough of a water comeback from the drought conditions to report a solid supply.

The city says it is working from a 10-year drought emergency plan using a water shortage timeline that began seven years ago in 2011.

Photo by David Grannis

A documentary on California’s historic drought produced by a South Coast college professor and his students will be screened this week.

The film “Turf Wars: SoCal Water Conservation” takes a deep look into the state’s severe drought and its impacts.  It was created by a film professor and his two students at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. 

Karie Portillo Guerra, who was a student when she helped create the film, says it was eye-opening to see the devastation in Central Valley towns that had pumped their groundwater dry.

Despite California's rainy winter season, the city of Santa Barbara is planning water agreements and policies in case the drought is not over.

This area of the state was one of the last to remain in drought conditions, even though it's doing much better now than it was a year ago.

The drought has led to the creation of a unique type of water exchange on the South Coast which may ultimately encourage conservation,

It’s a water market, which will allow farmers, and potentially other water users in parts of Ventura County to buy and sell groundwater.

A water conservation district on the South Coast is taking advantage of Northern California’s heavy rainfall this season to lock up some state water project water.

The United Water Conservation District reached a deal to buy a guaranteed 5,000 acre feet of water, and to get another 5,000 acre feet if available. The water would be used to recharge the District’s water basins in Western Ventura County and the Santa Clara River Valley.

For the first time in nearly a decade, a hydroelectric power plant on the South Coast is generating electricity.

Thanks to recent rainfall, water flowing through Gibraltar Reservoir is not only helping to meet the City of Santa Barbara’s water needs, it’s creating electricity.

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.

The Gibraltar Dam behind Santa Barbara has reached its limit and is full after the intense storms that passed through in the last week.

A month ago, it was at an unusable level.

After 5 years of drought,  the residents of La Conchita are seeing more rain than the area has soaked up in a long time.

La Conchita, which is off of Highway 101 south of Carpinteria, had major landslides in 1995 and 2005.

Ten people died in the 2005 slide.