February has turned out to be a very exciting month for folks living on this side of the coastal mountain range. For one thing, it’s been extraordinarily wet, in at times damaging proportions.
For example, Highway 154 will likely be closed to traffic through the middle of next month, due to a washout near Cachuma Lake, caused by a flooded culvert.
That’s the bad news, and more in a moment about the closure’s effects on North County residents.
The good news is that all the rain we’ve had has raised the water level at Cachuma Lake, which is the primary reservoir for South Coast water customers, and critically important to Santa Ynez River downstream replenishment, all the way to the Lompoc Valley.
The water level at the lake continues to rise with every rainfall, and the reservoir is now more than half full — a vast improvement over the disappearing lake late last year.
More water in Cachuma also is good news for folks who like to fish. The season's second trout planting took place at Cachuma Lake a few days ago. Recent rains and the resulting runoff are bringing up the water level, enhancing the fish habitat and bringing back a green hue to the region’s landscape. With the lake’s water volume slowly increasing, anglers can look forward to wider coves, deeper channels and better access to shoreline areas as they go after those newly-planted fish.
Although Highway 154 is shut down at Paradise Road — and will be for a while longer as Caltrans clears clogged drainage and repairs damage from heavy rains — the road is open from Highway 101 at the Los Olivos turnoff all the way down to the lake. Travelers can also reach Highway 154 via Highway 246 from Highway 101 in Buellton, which likely will increase the volume of traffic passing through Solvang. Drivers and pedestrians need to stay alert.
About that clogged culvert and flooded stretch of Highway 154. It serves as a reminder to local folks who must commute to the South Coast and beyond just how important having two ways to drive south truly is.
It also reminds us all that we live in a place that can, and does have periodic disasters, and if one of our established escape routes is not available, we need to have a contingency plan.
In some ways, having Highway 154 temporarily out of commission is a minor blessing, because it makes us think ahead, have a plan A and a plan B, maybe even a place C.
The timing of California’s multiple-disaster possibilities tends to be sporadic and sudden, especially if the disaster is earthquake-related. One minute you’re going about your business, and the next minute you’re knocked to the ground and scrambling for cover. If a major quake strikes this region, especially anywhere around Cachuma Lake, it’s almost a certainty that Highway 154 will not be an escape option.
Wildfires usually give residents more time to react, but they still require a detailed strategy that needs to be planned and discussed with the entire family, and stressing the importance of reacting and moving quickly. Not to do so could prove to be a fatal mistake.
The rainy season will soon wind down, Highway 154 will reopen and life will return to normal — if there is such a thing as “normal” for Californians, whose state motto probably should be something like, “Expect the unexpected.”
Meanwhile, enjoy the extra rain, maybe get in a little trout fishing. But never, ever stop planning for the next disaster.