Column by Loretta Redd
Asking hot air-filled floatation devises we refer to as “elected officials” to rise together and resolve a challenge by applying practical and long range solutions is sheer folly.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious why the words “successful” and “government” rarely appear in the same sentence. Common sense solutions are unachievable, especially when they involve multiple layers of bureaucracy.
Assuming Congresswoman Lois Capps wants to win her race in November, here is a daring feat, that if she can pull it off, will endear her to every thirsty voter now paying increasing water rates in order to reduce consumption.
It won’t be easy. It may not be quick, and it isn’t a ‘forever’ solution, but it will help ensure that the quantity of water available in our area is significantly increased. It’s also far from a new idea, as you will read as I quote frequently from the May, 1987 City of Santa Barbara report entitled, “GIBRALTAR LAKE RESTORATION PROJECT.”
The Gibraltar Lake Desiltation Project (proposed 1977, funded in 1978) report was submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Clean Lakes Program” almost three decades ago, and had the process been continued, we would not be in the water crisis we find ourselves today.
Here's their Executive Summary:
The reclamation program was proposed by the City of Santa Barbara in May 1977 to the U. S., Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Lakes Program. A Clean Lake EPA Grant to restore Gibraltar Lake was awarded to the City of Santa Barbara on May 15, 1978. This Funding and desiltation method of Gibraltar Lake was the first of its kind in the United States.
Within three years from the initial construction of the desiltation project, approximately 445 acre-feet of wet silt had been dredged from the lake at a total cost of $4,197,316.84.
Gibraltar Lake is a 273.6 acre reservoir located within the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains about seven miles north of Santa Barbara City. The reservoir provides an average of 35% of the City's drinking water supply in conjunction with the other supply sources such as Lake Cachuma 53%, and the City's 12% ground water source.
The lake's water capacity has been decreasing since the completion of the Gibraltar Dam in 1920 and subsequent enlargement in 1948, because of siltation. The reservoir formed by the damming of the Santa Ynez River had an initial maximum capacity of 14,500 acre-feet and a subsequent capacity of 22,500 acre-feet in 1948. The lake's last capacity measurement in 1986 was reported to be reduced to about 8,241 acre-feet or 37% of the total volume of 22,500 acre-feet. Over this 66 year period between 1920 through 1986, 14,259 acre-feet of silt entered Gibraltar Lake at an average rate of 216 acre-feet of silt per year.
The purpose of the Gibraltar Lake Restoration Project was to safely attempt to reclaim a portion of the reservoir's lost water capacity. The construction and dredging operations took nearly three years to complete. The actual project length satisfied the proposed 36 months originally stated in the Federal Assistance Application. EPA and representative of the Federal Government are to receive "thanks" from the citizens of Santa Barbara for participating in this grant. The purpose of the "Clean Lakes" grant has been fulfilled and this report is documentation of that participation between the agencies (EPA and the City of Santa Barbara).
A cubic yard of silt typically displaces 200 gallons of water.
I’m neither a mathematician nor a geologist, but two things seem rather obvious: first, we certainly could use the additional storage capacity in today’s Lake Gibraltar for when future rain falls, and secondly, I imagine dry dirt due to the drought conditions is far easier to remove than wet silt, though I envision the truckers dressed in white hazard suits, the dump trucks requiring union drivers and an Environmental Defense League escort.
The challenges remain numerous. How many various governmental entities would it take (this sounds like a riddle…) to approve a road being cut to allow the heavy moving equipment ingress and egress to the lake bed?
And, what do we do with all that ‘silt?‘ I am fairly certain some environmental elitist will declare it unsafe to reuse, even though it should make some of the best top-soil additive imaginable for our Central Coast farmers.
From the time of the proposal in 1977 until now, much has changed in Washington, in California and in Santa Barbara…and yet little has changed in government. Can Congresswoman Capps work with State Senator Jackson, Assemblyman Williams and Mayor Schneider to pull off this miracle or will they, too, remain blather-filled floatation devices more focused on the problem than on the solution?