Beginnings: South County Water System

When we first turned our focus to the SYR watershed, the drought, the fires, the situation of water that fed our communities were all things we felt compelled to explore. As artists this was the easy part – looking at the beautiful back-country, the drama of a fire-scape, the variety of landscape and topography, water or lack of it – the possibilities for painting.

But, I also realized at that point that we all lived in different areas of the ‘south county’ – from the far end of Montecito to the far end of Goleta, with Santa Barbara between - and that each of our neighborhoods relied on the same source for the majority of our water supply: the Santa Ynez River.

The watershed begins at the Murrieta Divide – behind the Santa Ynez mountains that are the beautiful backdrop for our area.


Water to the east of the divide runs to Ventura County and the Sespe watershed; to the west, water runs down toward Santa Ynez Valley and beyond. Juncal creek, Alder creek and Fox creek feed into the Santa Ynez. The first stop is Juncal Dam (completed in 1930), forming Jameson Lake. The  2.2 mile Doulton Tunnel carries water to Montecito. The Jameson system is managed by the Montecito Water District.

The river continues to Gibralter Dam (built in 1920) and it’s over-silted reservoir, picking up water from Mono Creek and various other small creeks. It feeds water to Santa Barbara through the 3.7 mile Mission Tunnel and the Devil’s Canyon Creek diversion. Gibralter is managed by the City of Santa Barbara.

The river keeps flowing - picking up run-off and other small creeks on its way to Lake Cachuma, behind the Bradbury Dam (built in 1952). Santa Cruz creek, Cachuma creek and a myriad of smaller creeks and canyon watersheds add into the reservoir. The 6.4 mile Tecolote Tunnel carries water to Goleta and Santa Barbara. Cachuma is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

 The South Coast Conduit Pipeline and Reservoir system provides water to Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.

 We have only begun to cover the area – the beautiful vistas of the watershed, the nitty-gritty of the creek beds, the flora and fauna, and the structures made by humans to control and manage it.

The journey so far has been eye-opening on every level: instructional, informative as well as amazing, visually stunning and artistically challenging.