From July 1978 to January 1980, water levels in the southern part of the Santa Barbara ground-water basin declined more than 100 feet. These water-level declines resulted from increases in municipal pumping since July 1978. The increase in municipal pumping was part of a basin-testing program designed to determine the usable quantity of ground water in storage. The pumping, centered in the city less than 1 mile from the coast, has caused water-level declines to altitudes below sea level in the main water-bearing zones. As a result, the ground-water basin would be subject to saltwater intrusion if the study-period pumpage were maintained or increased.
Data indicate that saltwater intrusion has degraded the quality of the water yielded from six coastal wells. During the study period, the six coastal wells all yielded water with chloride concentrations in excess of 250 milligrams per liter, and four of the wells yielded water with chloride concentrations in excess of 1,000 milligrams per liter.
Previous investigators believed that saltwater intrusion was limited to the shallow part of the aquifer, directly adjacent to the coast. The possibility of saltwater intrusion into the deeper water-bearing deposits in the aquifer was thought to be remote because an offshore fault truncates these deeper deposits so that they lie against consolidated rocks on the seaward side of the fault. Results of this study indicate, however, that ocean water has intruded the deeper water-bearing deposits, and to a much greater extent than in the shallow part of the aquifer. Apparently the offshore fault is not an effective barrier to saltwater intrusion.
No physical barriers are known to exist between the coast and the municipal well field. Therefore, if the pumping rate maintained during the basin-testing program were continued, the degraded water along the coast could move inland and contaminate the municipal supply wells. The time required for the degraded water to move from the coast to the nearest supply well is estimated, using Darcy's equation, to be about 20 years.
Management alternatives for controlling saltwater intrusion in the Santa Barbara area include (1) decreasing municipal pumping, (2) increasing the quantity of water available for recharge by releasing surplus water from surface reservoirs to Mission Creek, (3) artificially recharging the basin using injection wells, and (4) locating municipal supply wells farther from the coast and spacing them farther apart in order to minimize drawdown. Continued monitoring of water levels and water quality would enable assessment of the effectiveness of the control measures employed.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Ground-water monitoring at Santa Barbara, California; Phase 2, Effects of pumping on water levels and on water quality in the Santa Barbara ground-water basin