Kevin Walsh

Kevin Walsh

You have likely wondered, “Will we have enough water?” It would seem that most of the recent news about water involves discussions about drought, and rainfall during the winter, and climate change. Yes, all these are critical factors, but there are others too, making a simple answer to the basic question of will we have enough water not quite so simple.

The Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1 (often just called ID1 or District) delivers water to the communities of Los Olivos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, and the City of Solvang.

The District is governed by an elected 5-member board of trustees who set policy to be implemented by a professional staff. The foresight of concerned citizens through the years has provided the Valley area served by the District with a robust portfolio of water supplies. Locally ID1 pumps water directly from the Santa Ynez River and also from several wells tapping into the deep underground aquifer, which underlies most of our Valley.

Regionally, we have a share of water from Lake Cachuma. And we also have a supplemental supply from the State Water Project, whose source lies primarily in Oroville Reservoir, hundreds of miles to the north in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

It is because of these many water supplies, that during the recent drought ID1 was able to supply all water needs and only ask customers for a voluntary and minimal 10 percent reduction in use. Amazingly, while other water cities were instituting rationing water and surcharges on excessive water use, ID1 customers understood the need and achieved a 42 percent reduction. Yes, we made it through the worst drought on historical record, and yet uncertainties about future weather patterns, climate change, and existing water supply availability persist.

Lake Cachuma is a federally owned project, and subject to the rules of the United States. Water is sold to ID1 and to the cities on the South Coast through contracts. Those contracts expire in the year 2020, and are being renegotiated now, in advance of their expiration date. There are many competing interests for the water in the lake, including the downstream interests of Lompoc and agricultural pumpers, as well as the environmental needs within the river itself, such as the endangered Steelhead trout.

At this same time, the California State Water Board will be reviewing the water rights permits they have granted to the United States to operate the dam and water diversions. All stakeholders will need to work together during these negotiations if the river is to be managed in the best way possible.

Recently, our state legislature has dictated that all the major groundwater basins in the state prepare and implement sustainable management plans for the extraction and use of water from underground supplies. Such planning will require the cooperation of all the major water users in the entire Santa Ynez Valley. Perhaps this will not be an easy task, but nevertheless it is an important and achievable one. That work has only just begun, and policy committees are now formed with representatives from all cities, the county, and water districts.

“Will we have enough water?” The best answer is “Yes, we can have enough water, even with the uncertainties of weather patterns and climate change.” It will take wise planning and skillful implementation, of course. More important, it will take the support of an informed and knowledgeable citizenry.

Kevin Walsh is the President of the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, ID1. He has over 40 years experience in water resources planning and management. Meetings of the ID1 board of trustees are open to the public.

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