Cachuma Project

Cachuma Project Resources Photos Graphic

History of the Goleta Water District and the Cachuma Project

The Goleta Water District is a political subdivision of the State of California organized under Division 12 of the California Water Code. It was formed by a vote of the people in the District on November 17, 1944.

One of the original purposes for the formation of the District was to establish a legal entity representing the Goleta Valley area together with the City of Santa Barbara and Montecito, Summerland, Carpinteria, and Santa Ynez Water Districts. As a group, these organizations could enter into contracts with the Santa Barbara County Water Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for a supply of water and repayment of the costs of construction of the Cachuma Project on the Santa Ynez River. This project was constructed to conserve waters of the Santa Ynez River for use in the Santa Ynez Valley and the South Coast area of Santa Barbara County. The initial water service from the Cachuma Project to the South Coast began in 1956.

Cachuma News Press Headline and Article

1940s – Water District Formed to Battle Severe Drought

In the midst of WWII, Goleta Valley was battling with Mother Nature over water supplies. It was becoming clear that additional water supply sources were needed to supplement local water. At the time, no official agency represented the Goleta Valley in the debate concerning the development of Lake Cachuma on the Santa Ynez River. Goleta Water District was formed in 1944 to represent the water interests of the Goleta Valley.

By the late 1940s, a brutal drought was drying up the entire South Coast. With water demand exceeding supplies, Goleta residents joined other County citizens voting to approve the Cachuma project by a 3-to-1 margin.

1950s – Cachuma Project Rescues Water-Short Goleta Valley

A fascinating element of the Cachuma Project is Tecolote Tunnel, a seven-foot diameter, six-mile-long gravity-fed water conveyance pipeline, bored straight through the Santa Ynez Mountains.

The Tunnel required years of work and earned its reputation as a “snarling vicious tiger.” Work was repeatedly stopped by massive flooding in the tunnel, extreme temperatures, dangerous levels of toxic gas, explosions and hard rock that crushed support beams. Despite delays, worker injuries, and soaring costs, the job was completed in 1952.

Cachuma and Bradbury Dam Aerial Photo

Facts and Figures

Since 1956, the majority of Goleta's water supply has come from the Cachuma Project, located in the mountains just north and west of the District. Water from Lake Cachuma is divided among five water purveyors, including GWD. The District is entitled to 36.25 percent of the Lake's available supply -- the equivalent of 9,322 acre-feet per year.

In July 1997, Goleta and its surrounding communities along the South Coast were connected to the State Water Project by a 143-mile pipeline, treatment plant and other facilities. State water will ensure an adequate water supply to the Goleta community for reliability during dry periods and for future needs. The District plans to be able to receive approximately 3,800 acre-feet per year from the State Water Project during normal conditions.

Cachuma and Bradbury Dam Photo March 2019

Lake Cachuma: Our Largest Water Supply Source

Under normal conditions, the majority of the District water supply is from the Cachuma Project, which the United States Bureau of Reclamation constructed on the Santa Ynez River in the early 1950s.  Lake Cachuma provides about 85 percent of the water for the 250,000 residents and 12,000 acres of agriculture along the South Coast of Santa Barbara County.  Supplies from Cachuma are also released for downstream water rights and federal fish protection requirements.  The District is entitled to 36 percent, or 9,322 AFY, of the Lake yield, which provides for approximately three-quarters of District customer demand in normal years. 

Cachuma supplies are delivered to the Goleta Valley through the Tecolote Tunnel and the South Coast Conduit and treated at the District Corona Del Mar Water Treatment Plant.  Using Cachuma supplies to meet the majority of District demand keeps customer costs low as Cachuma is the most inexpensive source of water available to the District. 

Cachuma Project Facilities

The Cachuma Project consists of Bradbury Dam, Tecolote Tunnel, South Coast Conduit, and various water conveyance facilities.

  • Bradbury Dam: Bradbury Dam is a earthfill structure, containing 6,695,000 cubic yards of material, and standing 279 feet high.  The dam impounds up to 205,000 acre feet of water along the Santa Ynez River, approximately 45 miles from the river outlet at the ocean.
  • Tecolote Tunnel: Water is diverted from Lake Cachuma to the South Coast through the Tecolote Tunnel, which was bored approximately 6.4 miles through the Santa Ynez Mountains to the head works of the South Coast Conduit at Glen Annie Reservoir.
  • South Coast Conduit Pipeline and Reservoirs: The South Coast Conduit extends for a distance of approximately 24 miles along the South Coast from Goleta to Carpinteria, and includes four regulating reservoirs. The South Coast Conduit delivers Cachuma Project raw water to the District at the Corona del Mar Treatment Plant.  The Conduit also delivers water to the other South Coast Cachuma Member Units: City of Santa Barbara, Montecito Water District, and Carpinteria Valley Water District.

Lake Cachuma–The District’s Primary Water Source Video Program. Highlights include Lake Cachuma’s five decade history, the District’s 36% entitlement, and ongoing challenges due to drought conditions, fish protection and recent fires.


Cachuma Project Resources

Governing and Foundational Documents

Cachuma Project Hearing website at the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) contains environmental documentation, exhibits and testimony related to the history and development of the Cachuma Project.  The extensive record of documents submitted to the SWRCB is located here:

Pertinent historical documents including the Master Contract, water rights permits for the Cachuma Project, Congressional authorization and legislation, and contracts for Operation and Maintenance of Cachuma can be accessed here:

United States Bureau of Reclamation (UBSR) maintains a detailed Cachuma Project page that contains information on the history, construction, and operations of Cachuma.

Prior Biological Assessments, environmental documents, and Cachuma operational parameters can be found here:

Reservoir, Rainfall and Streamflow Operations

Santa Barbara County Water Agency (SBCWA) maintains detailed records of historical reservoir level data and inflow and outflow data, located here:  SBCWA’s site also contains real-time rainfall and reservoir data, as well as stream flow data.

SBCWA posts a regulary updated Rainfall and Reservoir Summary here:

SBCWA maintains reports on water resources across Santa Barbara County, including the Cachuma Project.  Documents include maps, Results of a 2013 Survey and Sedimentation Update and high resolution map for Lake Cachuma, A Water History of the Cachuma Project, and information on Cachuma Watershed Fire History 1997-2017. 

USBR maintains daily Cachuma operation reports that summarize all water inflow and outflow into Cachuma, located here:

USBR Central Valley Operations Office contains monthly and yearly historical records of Cachuma Operations located here:

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) maintains real-time information on Santa Ynez River flow above and below Cachuma, located here:

Outside Agencies and Advocacy

The Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board (COMB), responsible for diversion of water from lake Cachuma located in the Santa Ynez Valley to the South Coast of Santa Barbara County through the Tecolote Tunnel, maintains detailed information on Cachuma Operations, budgeting, and activities related to engineering, fisheries management, and Board activities.

Cachuma Conservation Release Board (CCRB) maintains a library of key Cachuma-related documents related to management of fisheries releases from Cachuma, including the Lower Santa Ynez River Fish Management Plan, Cachuma Project Biological Opinion, a landmark 2002 Settlement Agreement, and the latest information on the draft revised water rights order for Cachuma.