Santa Barbara Leads Southern California in Cutting Water Use


Janani Ravikumar
Staff Writer

To cope with California’s drought, state officials are finalizing a plan to cut water across the state that would require individual cities to reduce water use by 4 to 36 percent—and Santa Barbara already has a bit of a head start.

According to National Public Radio, Santa Barbara has cut water use by 22 percent over the course of the past two years and now saves more water than any other city in Southern California.

“We’re all used to earthquakes and fires and floods, so if you throw a drought at us we’re all going to be able to respond well to it,” said Madeline Ward, Santa Barbara’s water conservation coordinator, in an interview with NPR. “I think it’s just giving people the right tools to do that.”

These tools include teaching school kids about the drought, offering rebates for water-saving washing machines, and raising water rates, for example. However, other cities have tried similar ideas, but haven’t been able to produce similar results.

Santa Barbara has been so receptive to this drought because the city suffered through another brutal drought in the late 1980’s, Ward said.

“It wasn’t this monumental, statewide drought that we are now seeing,” said Ward. “It mainly had pretty bad effects on the central coast… It got to the point where people were really just trying to save their trees, and the feedback we received is that that created a lot of undue hardship for folks.”

Water use dropped about 40 percent in a single year back then, and though that drought ended in 1991, the city has been hyper vigilant since then.

“The city of Santa Barbara has done a great job in getting its customers to conserve water, and so has our water purveyor Goleta Water District,” said University of California, Santa Barbara Sustainability’s Recycling and Water Efficiency Manager, Matthew O’Carroll. “It is important that we do our part to conserve this natural resource.”

On Sept. 9, 2014, the Goleta Water District Board of Directors declared a Stage II Water Shortage Emergency, which requires the community to reduce water use by 25 percent, according to the Goleta Water District’s official site. This reduction will ideally extend available water supplies.

“Water conservation is the largest source of available water, as conserving water now guarantees that we have additional supply to meet the health and safety needs of our community,” said O’Carroll. “It is also a practice/source of water that is essentially free, as cutting back on water use will reduce your utility expenditure on water. Every drop counts.”

Specifically, UCSB has prioritized educational and outreach efforts during this drought, according to O’Carroll, and the school has collaborated with student groups to host workshops and table at events such as the Gaucho Certified Farmer’s Market. On campus, residence halls have engaged in water conservation competitions and have been displaying messages encouraging students to conserve water on the DigiKnow monitors throughout the dining halls.

But students can’t get complacent just yet, according to O’Carroll. Students need to be aware of the environmental tolls of their actions and conscious of their water use, even after this drought ends.

“We need to make water conservation and efficiency practices a social norm, both in times of drought, as well as wet years,” said O’Carroll. “Conserving and being efficient with every drop counts and is beneficial for us and the environment in the long run, as in times of drought conservation will help us immediately, and during wet years, it will help us build a resilient reserve of water.”