Severe Drought Grips Santa Barbara County, Again

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Victoria Penate

A large portion of California is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions, which could potentially lead to another statewide drought. There has been a low amount of rainfall this winter, especially compared to the series of storms which alleviated the state’s drought conditions last winter.

As of Feb. 28, almost 48 percent of California is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions, according to the United States Drought Monitor. The Drought Monitor estimates the population of drought-affected areas to be over 24 million, mostly within Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties.

Despite the heavy rain season last winter, Santa Barbara County never actually dipped below moderate drought over the past year. The county is now undergoing severe drought after a rainy season that has been particularly dry so far.

The current reported conditions are particularly concerning when contrasted with the drought condition assessment made one year ago. At this date in 2017, the United States Drought Monitor reported that only 8.73 percent of the state was experiencing a moderate to severe drought. This relatively low percentage, nearly 40 percent lower than the current one, was reached partly due to the fact that last winter had record-breaking snowfall.

There are several different factors climate scientists consider to determine whether a given region is in a drought. According to its Drought Classification summary, the United States Drought Monitor assessments are made based on the analysis of factors such as the state’s temperature, precipitation data, soil moisture levels, and weekly streamflow.

Southern California residents already see some of the changes the current drought conditions caused. The decreased rainfall in the region “contributed to the conditions leading to the recent catastrophic wildfires,” according to an NPR article. The same article reported that, although state officials lifted the drought-induced state of emergency less than a year ago, “federal weather officials say that California is headed into another drought.”

As drought conditions seem to become worse, California residents are growing more concerned about what actions state legislators may take in response. While less devastating than the direct environmental impact the drought may have, the regulatory changes a drought may bring could affect the everyday operation of private residences and businesses alike.

The Santa Barbara Independent reported at the end of January that Santa Barbara residents are consuming water at the lowest volume per capita since the 1950s. While this reflects the city’s efforts toward conservation, Santa Barbara Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark recently warned city council members that this may not be enough to ward off a water deficit in the next few years.

Potential water conservation-oriented restrictions for homeowners may include “prohibitions on watering lawns so much that the water flows into the street, using a hose to wash down sidewalks, or using a hose without an automatic shut-off nozzle to wash cars,” according to the Associated Press.

Business owners may also have to change their policies due to the potential regulations. Hotels, for example, may have to ask guests whether they need their towels and sheets washed. This would presumably reduce the amount of water used and prevent instances of unnecessary laundering. Running an ornamental fountain without a recirculation system or watering outside within 48 hours following rainfall may also be prohibited.

These regulations, which were fairly unpopular during their temporary implementation from 2013 to 2017, may be given more permanence if reinstated. However, the State Water Resources Control Board has not yet decided if the regulations will return, according to the Associated Press. The board is expected to make a final decision by April 17.