Your memories of last winter’s rainy season may be based on how you feel about stormy weather.

On the one hand, most Central Coast residents reveled in several extraordinary winter storms that dumped tons of water, helping fill local reservoirs and compelling state officials to cancel a severe drought condition.

On the other hand, lots of rain can cause problems, not the least of which are flooding and mudslides. Rain also can be inconvenient for families trying to get their kids to school while staying dry, or for folks whose primary source of income is dependent on working outdoors.

All things considered — including some inconveniences — we need those winter storms. You only have to think back a few months to see Cachuma Lake approaching a bone-dry situation.

It seems like California and its residents are only a few steps from disaster, be it severe drought or torrential downpours. And heaven help us if the state’s tectonic plates decide to perform a gyrating dance.

That litany of potential disasters notwithstanding — after all, we’ve been living with them forever — the end of the latest drought episode was a blessed event, and winter rains did a fine job of replenishing the water supply at Cachuma.

And earlier this week, state and local officials started releasing some of that lake’s contents downstream. The mandated release started early Monday morning, and will last for awhile. Its purpose is to recharge groundwater basins along the Santa Ynez River corridor, all the way to the Lompoc Valley.

The Cachuma water will be flowing through the dam at the rate of about 150 cubic feet a second, which translates to about 300 acre-feet a day. An acre-foot is equal to the average amount of water used by a family of six over the course of a year.

It’s interesting to note that just a few decades ago the official definition of an acre-foot was the amount needed for a family of four over a year’s span. That’s what droughts tend to do, convince policy-makers and water consumers to conserve. And that’s a good thing.

The release that started Monday is expected to continue for the next three months. The water will make its way downstream in the so-called “low-flow channel,” generally in the middle of the river bed, which could mean some crossing problems for traffic in low-lying areas. Here’s a tip — if you approach one of those crossings, and water is obscuring the road, turn around and find another route.

Water flowing out of Cachuma — which finished up at just under 50-percent capacity after the winter storms — will deplete the reservoir by 16,000 acre-feet, bringing capacity down to a tad above 37 percent by the end of November.

If Mother Nature does her thing again this winter, that’s about when the first of the winter storms will start rolling in off the Pacific Ocean. That’s the theory, at least. Mother Nature has been known to snooze through the winter rainy season, sometimes with near-catastrophic results.

It is abundantly clear that with Cachuma Lake at less than half of capacity — with the water release cutting that to 37 percent by around Thanksgiving — we are still dealing with the effects of a long, tedious drought. And every Californian knows that neither rain nor drought are sure things.

The bottom line is, we can enjoy having enough water for the moment, while being acutely aware that by this time next year, we could be back in a severe drought situation.

Ah, the wonders of California living.


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