By Scott Gold
27 January 2014
CACHUMA LAKE RECREATION AREA, California (Los Angeles Times) – When Jeff Bozarth retired after 20 years as a police officer and signed up as a park ranger here last spring, he knew what to expect and relished every bit of it.
Hidden in the folds of the Central Coast mountains, Cachuma Lake featured the largest campground in Santa Barbara County and one of the area's most popular outdoor playgrounds.
Here, Bozarth knew, was 190,000 acre-feet of crystalline water that splashed into clay washes and lapped at primeval rock formations. There would be bobcats, wild pigs, migrating grebes who acted out an elaborate courtship dance. Hawks would ride the thermals — plumes of air that jetted up the cliffs and allowed the birds to stay motionless in the air without rising, without falling, without even flapping their wings.
"But I didn't expect this," Bozarth said.
Cachuma Lake, the source of drinking water for 200,000 people on the southern coast of Santa Barbara County, from Goleta to Carpinteria, is disappearing. It is becoming a startling emblem of California's debilitating drought, with little hope that conditions will improve any time soon.
Bozarth walked to the base of Bradbury Dam, because you can do that sort of thing right now, and stabbed the toe of his boot into the dirt. The dam was finished in 1953, built to rein in the water of the Santa Ynez River, forming a reservoir — Cachuma Lake — for a booming stretch of California.
In years past, the spot where Bozarth was standing was under 30, 40, even 50 feet of water. It wasn't all that long ago that Cachuma "spilled" — filled to the brim, to the point where millions of gallons of clean, fresh water was released through the dam's gates and cast into the sea, a display of surplus that is laughable today.
That was only three years ago. Now, said Tom Fayram, Santa Barbara County's deputy public works director, "it's just empty." [more]