Another drought? Dam It!

There seems to be a pattern here..... we experience drought and then build a dam.  

La Purisima Fountain

La Purisima Fountain

The earliest evidence comes with our Mission Period. Severe droughts in 1794 and 1795 prompted our first reservoirs.  Franciscan Padres designed systems that were built by the Chumash neophytes.  The first was the Mission Dam in 1807 and the second was in Rattlesnake Canyon in 1808.



Our growing population and another drought 75 years later inspire our next water management project, the Gibraltar Dam and Mission Tunnel. 

Gibraltor Dam Teacup.jpg

Gibraltor Dam Teacups Circa 1920

Gibraltor Dam was completed in 1920. Silt depleted its holding capacity and was raised to a new height in 1948...hence the stacked teacups.





Newspaper headlines in the 1904 San Francisco Call reported DROUGHT HURTS THE CATTLEMEN : Livestock in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Nearly Starve.   In the early 1900’s Santa Barbara City Managers saw that the local ground water supply would not satisfy the growing community during our re-occurring droughts.  Capturing water from the Santa Ynez river and diverting to Santa  Barbara was the purpose behind the Gibraltar Dam and Mission Tunnel completed in 1920.

Juncal Dam Teacup.jpg

Juncal Dam Teacup Circa 1928

Juncal Dam and Jameson Lake followed in 1928, serving the Montecito residents.


Another punishing drought returned in the late 1940’s and led to Lake Cachuma and the Tecolote Tunnel, which was finally completed in 1956.  This “multi-year” reservoir was intended to hold enough water for the Santa Barbara Cities and the Santa Ynez Valley over an extended multi-year drought.

Bradbury Dam Batter Bowl.jpg

Bradbury Dam Batter Bowl Circa 1948

In relation to the other two dams, Bradbury is much larger and more modern.  Therefore the "batter bowl" is a good example of size compared to the teacups.

Dams seem to be temporary solutions and create new challenges, such as robbing our steelhead trout access to their spawning grounds.  Dams fill with silt and debris and we continue to lose storage capacity.


However, we continue to be more effective in our conservation efforts.  Our overall water usage has returned to the same level as in the 1980’s even though our population has continued to grow.  Water conservation efforts such as limiting use and recycling have dramatically helped us control the water demand.  We obviously need to continue in this direction and seek out other sources, such as desalinization and using non-potable water for landscaping.


There will be more droughts, but I don’t think the “Dam It” solution will apply in the future.