A drought in paradise as Santa Barbara struggles with a very dry year

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In response to its dwindling supply of water, Santa Barbara City’s Council has declared a Stage Two drought alert, requiring a 20% or more reduction in residential and commercial water use. That means the watering of gardens is limited to the early morning and evening hours, the washing or hosing down of pavement is generally prohibited,cars must be washed at commercial facilities instead of homes, and drought notices are required at hotels and restaurants. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)

Communities across California are  implementing emergency conservation measures to save water during what has become one of the state’s worst droughts.

One of the places most affected by the drought is also one of the state’s richest communities: Santa Barbara.

For decades, Santa Barbara has sold itself as a kind of seaside Shangri-La. It’s a place of beautiful beaches, gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and lush gardens. But Santa Barbara and surrounding communities have a remarkably fragile supply of water, which is particularly apparent during periods of drought.

Below, we take a closer look at the drought through a Santa Barbara lens.

Over the decades, Santa Barbara has been known as a place of sun-kissed gentility and abundance. But image aside, Santa Barbara County and adjacent communities are very vulnerable to drought. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Over the decades, Santa Barbara has carefully cultivated an image as a place of sun-kissed gentility and abundance. But that abundance depends on having a secure supply of water. Santa Barbara County and adjacent communities are very vulnerable to drought. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
More than 70% of south Santa Barbara County's water supply comes from Lake Cachuma about twenty miles northeast of Santa Barbara. Lake Cachuma, though, is shrinking as California's drought continues. The photo above is taken from the "bottom" of Lake Cachuma, which during a period of abundant rainfall would be 50 feet underwater. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
More than 70% of South Santa Barbara County’s water supply comes from Lake Cachuma, located about twenty miles northeast of Santa Barbara. But Lake Cachuma is shrinking as California’s drought persists. The photo above is taken from the “bottom” of Lake Cachuma, which during a period of abundant rainfall would be 50 feet underwater. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Santa Barbara and wealthy communities like Montecito and Summerland are known for their lush private gardens. Experts say maintaining these gardens is one reason why water conversation is so difficult in some parts of Santa Barbara County. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Santa Barbara and wealthy communities like Montecito and Summerland are known for their lush private gardens. Experts say maintaining these gardens is one reason why water conversation is so difficult in some parts of Santa Barbara County. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Tom Fayram is Santa Barbara County's deputy director of water resources. He says Santa Barbara can manage its water resources for another two years of drought, but after that the situation gets alarming. "If we don't get rain in the next two years, this lake will be a puddle, " says Fayram. He goes on to say the the best solution is for Santa Barbara to follow water conservation practices even during periods of abundant rainfall so that it builds up an adequate water reserve for future droughts. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Tom Fayram is Santa Barbara County’s deputy director of water resources. He says Santa Barbara can manage its water resources for another two years of drought, but after that the situation gets alarming. “If we don’t get rain in the next two years, this lake will be a puddle, ” says Fayram. He says the best solution is for Santa Barbara to follow water conservation practices even during periods of abundant rainfall so that it builds up an adequate water reserve for future droughts. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Gwen Stauffer is the executive director of Ganna Walska Lotusland, a 37-acre garden in Montecito. Partly in response to the drought, Stauffer says her garden has cut its water use by 25%, but she worries about the water waste she still sees in Santa Barbara County. “I am astonished that Californians, who have lived here for as long as they have, and they know we don’t have consistent rain, are often so careless. I am astonished that there isn’t a greater sense of conservation of this particular resource,” says Stauffer. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)