During these long year drought cycles, when winter after winter the rains remain less and less frequent, each winter brings a new hope for rain. Drought in our region, probably best described as the periods between spill events at Lake Cachuma, is about to enter its eighth year, or is it?

This winter, unlike the preceding seven, has started out wetter. In addition, short term forecasts show more rain on the way. February is our historic highest rainfall month. February 2019 is shaping up to be a wetter than average February. This bodes well for the possibility of Lake Cachuma filling to the top and even sending significant flows down the spillway to the Pacific Ocean.

The lake, sitting one third empty just a few weeks ago, is now rising steadily and more than half full. A couple more well-bred storms and we are likely to see the lake full to the brim and overflowing for the first time in eight years. I call that a new hope - this is not something that could be said since the winter of 2011.

Of course a full lake is not our only supply. Imported state water from northern California is an important supplemental supply. Without that water, and just as important is the infrastructure that allowed purchases from other areas of surplus, most of Santa Barbara County would have not just suffered from the inconvenience of dry weather, but suffered deprivation and privation as well.

Thankfully, the northern part of our state received an abundance of precipitation in 2017. Not so thankfully, the abundance caused a near catastrophic crisis in the form of a damaged spillway at the massive Oroville Dam. The danger was averted, and in the end state water was available for our county during the last two years when Cachuma entitlements were gradually cut to zero.

Earlier this month the big weather news was the so-called Polar Vortex. For whatever else it may be in other places, in our part of the world it equals dry weather.

Fortunately for us, this arctic phenomenon was short-lived. Looming big right now is the possibility of an atmospheric river hitting the West Coast. These “rivers”, which originate over the oceans, are most simply understood as moving and concentrated areas of relatively higher moisture that are miles in width and hundreds or even thousands of miles long.

Moving from east to west in the northern hemisphere, they carry tremendous amounts of water that tends to get dumped when the rivers meet the land. At any given time around the globe, there may be six or so of these rivers forming and dissipating. Right now it is the season when these rivers are the most likely to form high above the Pacific Ocean.

Yes, this is a new year and a new season for a new hope. A new hope to start afresh. A new start with the glass full and overflowing.

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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