February 3, 2023
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Torrential rainfall brings drought relief to Central Coast

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The U.S. Drought Monitor Map’s most recent update of California as of Jan. 12. (Courtesy photo)

Update: As of Jan. 12, no county in California is designated as an extreme drought area while locations that were in severe drought are down from 71% to 46%.

Another storm has come and gone along the Central Coast — though another could be approaching soon — and luckily it seems the area has largely avoided disasters that have plagued the tri-counties in the past.
There is still work to be done between the damage totals, construction delays and many hotel and flight cancelations, but the torrential rain might have left some much-needed relief in its wake.

With as much agriculture as the Central Coast supports, rain is usually welcomed, and the rain certainly made some waves.

Lake Cachuma has risen from about 30% full to more than 80% with expectations it will be 100% full by the end of the weekend, Matt Young, the water agency manager at Santa Barbara County, told the Business Times.

He added that other places like the Gibraltar Reservoir, which serves the city of Santa Barbara, the Jameson Reservoir, which serves the Montecito Water District, and Twitchell Reservoir, which serves Santa Maria, have all also been filled and our spilling over due to the rain that has hit over the last seven days.

Lake Nacimiento in San Luis Obispo County and Lake Casitas in Ventura County are also filling rapidly.

“It’s quite an incredible rise. As far as the drought, these rains are wonderful,” Young said.

The rain has also refilled groundwater basins as rain from the surface runs off and infiltrates through the ground and travels down between grains of sand, silt and clay and mix it down to aquifers that are then used by farmers.

Maureen McGuire, the CEO of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, said recharging those basins are crucial in “helping alleviate the impacts of drought on farmers.”

Having recharged basins or a full Lake Cachuma, Casitas, Nacimiento, is also a huge economic benefit.

“If you’re able to grow a crop of strawberries for 2.5-acre feet of water, and that crop of strawberries brings in a certain amount of money. That means that an acre-foot of water functionally in your business can be worth up to $20,000 if you’re able to put that acre-foot of water into beneficial use,” she said.

Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira, told the Business Times via email, the upside of the rains can far outweigh the downsides if there isn’t too much significant damage.

“Except for flooding and damage, these rains are godsends for all of us. There will be significant recharge of our aquifers and, for the agricultural community, weeks without irrigation requirements,” he said.

There are still downsides. In an ideal world, a more drawn-out and lighter rain allows the water to penetrate deeper into the soil versus just washing over it, allowing for healthier soil.

Moreover, when the rain falls as hard as it did on Jan. 9, the next day farmers are more preoccupied with dealing with flooded fields.

Crops in those fields likely won’t be able to be harvested given safety regulations.

“From an agricultural perspective, obviously we’re always grateful for the rain and we need this water so sometimes it’s hard to talk about the downsides and you don’t want to piss off the Water God, but it can be tough on our farmers when it rains this hard, and this was too hard,” McGuire said.

Other industries are also affected by this rainfall.

The Santa Barbara Airport canceled flights on Jan. 9 and 10 because of the rain, leaving many stranded. 

No exact data could be gathered about hotel cancelations or extra bookings as the effects are still being felt by the hour.

With regards to healthcare, hospitals and their practitioners, there didn’t seem to be any ill effects so far. 

When asked if staffing was strained, scheduling of procedures was changed or if facilities experienced power outages or flooding, officials from Dignity Health reported that they were, “Fortunate enough to not have been impacted by the storm.” 

Sansum Clinic reported similar good news, reporting no storm-related repercussions on their delivery of healthcare.

“It has been business as usual,” said a representative for Tenet Health. 

As to risks of power outages and flooding, the representative for Tenet added “We work closely with PG&E to ensure we have advanced notice of any such risk.” 

“We do also have backup generators and other contingency plans in place should there be any outage at our facilities. Our campus geographies and design prevent flooding from occurring, even in heavy precipitation,” they said.

Many nonprofits and shelters also banded together during the rainfall, opening warming centers, finding additional shelter space, and overall aiming to help as many people as possible.

Local government agencies were also quick to help people who found themselves in troubling situations.

In response, congress members Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, also signed a letter to President Joe Biden to amend California’s federal emergency declaration to include San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties on Jan. 9

The letter detailed how each county needed federal emergency assistance due to Santa Barbara’s multiple fire hazards increasing debris flow risk and the over 6,000 homes in San Luis Obispo County that remain without power.

The letter worked as Jan. 10, Biden’s letter was amended to include 14 new counties, including both Santa Barbara and SLO.

“I am grateful to President Biden, FEMA, state officials, and our local leaders and emergency managers for working quickly to ensure Central Coast first responders can get the resources they need to respond to the damage brought by this week’s storms,” Carbajal said in a press release. 

“I urge all Central Coast residents to continue to heed the warnings of our first responders and emergency response teams. The danger has not yet passed, hazards remain, and vigilance is critical to keeping you and your family safe.”

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