Emergency declared in SLO County because of storms


Late Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Luis Obispo County as a result of the storms that pounded the region over the weekend and into Monday.

By declaring the emergency, the governor put state agencies and personnel at the ready to help county officials as needed.

Before the governor could take action, the county had to declare a local emergency, which it did.

Ron Alsop, county emergency services manager, said the county is also asking for a federal “presidential declaration of emergency.”

According to Alsop, the local proclamation “frees up local resources to respond even more promptly than they already have been by streamlining the approval process necessary to obtain additional assistance and resources.”

It also speeds up possible state and federal money.

Schwarzenegger also declared states of emergency in Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Tulare counties because of storm-related damage.

On the positive side, the heavy rains since Friday have given reservoirs in San Luis Obispo County a hefty boost, but only one is at capacity.

Santa Margarita Lake — 10 miles northeast of San Luis Obispo and also known as the Salinas Reservoir — is spilling at 105 percent of capacity. The other four reservoirs ranged from 40 to 62 percent full as of Tuesday morning.

How fast a reservoir fills depends on how much water it can hold and the size of the watershed that feeds it. At opposite extremes are Whale Rock Reservoir and Santa Margarita Lake.

Whale Rock near Cayucos has twice the capacity of Santa Margarita Lake but is fed by a watershed only a fifth as large, said Bob Hamilton, water supply supervisor for the city of San Luis Obispo, which manages the reservoir.

Reservoirs typically make modest capacity gains from the first storms of the year because the ground is still dry. For example, Nacimiento Lake rose from 34 to 40 percent capacity over the weekend.

Now that the ground is saturated, however, future storms should yield more runoff, Hamilton said. Reservoirs are an important source of water for many communities in San Luis Obispo County. Other sources include groundwater, the state water pipeline, and, soon, the Nacimiento Water Project.

More information can be obtained by visiting the website www.slocountywater.org.

David Sneed and Bob Cuddy contributed to this report.