Here we go — again.

Winter storms dumped enough rain to raise water levels in regional reservoirs, at least a little. That’s the good part.

The bad part is that with the winter rainy season slowly winding down, there remains a situation in which what rain did fall was primarily absorbed by super-dry soil, which means a lot of deposited moisture never made it to our local water-holding basins.

Experts say March was quite good to the Central Coast in terms of total rainfall, compared to recent years. But the thing to remember is that those “recent years” were bone-dry, so much so that California suffered through another severe drought cycle.

Although March was decent in terms of rainfall, it still was only about half of what would be considered normal — if normal could even be part of a conversation about California’s weather.

The winter rains left the region’s smaller reservoirs in fair shape, but the big ponds — Cachuma and Twitchell — are left with just a fraction of their capacity. Cachuma serves much of the Santa Ynez Valley, while Twitchell is a mainstay for the Santa Maria region.

The Twitchell situation is bad news for North County. Even after the winter downpours, the reservoir contains less than 2 percent of its holding capacity. Twitchell’s max is about 60,000 acre-feet, and it’s now down to less than 4,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is 326,000 or so gallons, or what is generally required to supply the annual water needs of four to 10 people in a typical urban environment.

Given North County’s mushrooming population, the numbers really don’t add up. In fact, none of the water numbers are adding up. It takes years of normal rainfall to bring reservoirs to capacity, and we’re just not seeing that. As of last week, the county had received 59 percent of normal rainfall for the year. Unless there is a weather miracle, which is always possible, we seem to be drifting toward another bout of drought.

As a whole, the county continues to be in severe drought, a fact acknowledged by local water agencies, which continue to operate conservation programs and make plans for rationing future supply.

It’s a typical California situation — we need rain, but not too much of it. A deluge could cause another disaster in the regions below burn areas, which actually have been recovering nicely because of the amount of rain that has fallen.

Still, the drought monster is there, lurking at the start of the dry season. Climate experts at Cornell University predict that California and other semi-arid regions around the world are likely to have an overall decrease in rainfall in the coming years. In fact, the phrase “mega-drought” appears throughout the Cornell report. The entire Southwestern U.S. is in the same situation, which has social and economic ramifications of major significance.

For example, here on the Central Coast, a mega-drought could be catastrophic to local agriculture, which is Santa Barbara County’s No. 1 industry in terms of producing revenue. And various climate models are predicting up to a 50-percent chance of a 35-year drought for California. That’s mega, no matter how you want to interpret it.

We don’t feel compelled to repeat our recommendations for dealing with such an event, because we’ve written it so many times. But we’ll say it again anyway — desalination.

It can be an expensive energy hog, but removing salt from sea water is a tried-and-true solution to the drought that is a almost sure thing in California.


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