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Water releases underway at Lake Cachuma ahead of latest downpour

Cachuma Lake
Posted at 6:39 PM, Mar 09, 2023

With a Flood Watch now in place for parts of Santa Barbara County, local agencies have gotten an early start on their storm preparations.

As this new round of rain starts to trickle in, water releases at Cachuma Reservoir are already in place, while Lompoc Police officials are starting to issue evacuation notices to residents in the riverbed.

Cachuma Lake officials say water levels are more than 10-times their measurements from 2016. They say recent storms on the Central Coast have accelerated those numbers, which is why they are airing on the side of caution with the next anticipated rainfall.

“We are currently releasing 5,000 cubic feet per second which is a moderate amount for the Santa Ynez River system,” said Michael Jackson, area manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “We are doing this in advance of the storm that we expect to start showing up tonight.”

Jackson says water releases were also carried out in advance of last month’s storms, but he admits the heavy downpour that actually came was more than they anticipated.

“The forecast came in about five times as much as what the information we had to rely on,” Jackson told KSBY Thursday.

As a result, areas on the outskirts of Lompoc along the Santa Ynez River overflowed, flooding nearby fields.

As the new storm approaches, lieutenant Agustin Arias with the Lompoc Police Department is urging the community to stay away.

“We expect a significant amount of rainfall over the weekend, so we have issued a warning to people who congregate in the riverbed area, even people that want to come and look at the amount of water that is coming, we don’t advise of it,” he said.

Lt. Arias says high water levels caused by February’s storms drove most people out of their encampments in the riverbed, but in the past weeks some have returned.

“As the rain starts to come in, we will start monitoring the area and when we see people, we are going to start telling them 'Hey, it is time to move on.' And as the rain continues, on an hourly basis we will use our loudspeaker and tell them to move out.” Lt. Arias added.

Meanwhile, Jackson says releases at Cachuma can be expected to last over the next 10 days.

“We don’t see these levels in the Santa Ynez Valley that often, so just be very careful if you are going to be on or near the water,” he stated.

Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said they expect residual flows from the reservoir to continue even after the storm passes. They say teams will be working to capture some of that water to build their reservoir back up to capacity.

Lompoc Police say their patrol along the Santa Ynez River will stretch from the far east part of town just before the Robinson Bridge, as well as the city’s western limits on the Floridale Bridge.

They advise you to reach out if you see flooding in your neighborhood.