Mapping history

Guest blogger: Geoff Willard (MESM 2016)

I never thought my summer job would make me feel like a private eye. But now I approach each day like a detective, digging through clues and following leads to solve a mystery that involves phantom survey markers, lost monuments, and woefully mismanaged property rights.

I work for Santa Barbara’s Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board (COMB), one of many water resource agencies struggling to manage water use during the state’s worst drought in recorded history. The agency operates a pipeline that brings water from Lake Cachuma Reservoir to Santa Barbara and the surrounding communities. The pipeline was built and buried in the 1950s, and COMB obtained the rights to manage the strip of land surrounding the pipeline as part of an easement.

Since that time, records of the easement’s location were accounted for in various fragmented forms, but no comprehensive digital map of the easement exists.  Meanwhile, private landowners have built structures (and even homes) directly on top of the easement and above stretches of the pipeline. These encroachments represent a problem because they could interfere with COMB’s responsibility to provide Santa Barbara with reliable access to water – imagine if a property owner dug a well or a trench on the easement and mistakenly punctured the pipe. The county could become parched!

So COMB needs to know where the easement is in order to guide itself and the public in safe, responsible development. This is my mystery. I’m using dusty old surveyor drawings and fuzzy descriptions of “permanent” geo-spatial markers from the 1950’s, combined with fancy new mapping tools (like ArcGIS and a Trimble Geo 7X), to try to piece together an accurate map of COMB’s property. This work won’t necessarily help California learn how to do more with less water, but it may yet prevent the current drought crisis from getting worse than it has to be for our local community.


Curious if your property is near the COMB pipeline? Check out Geoff’s map above to find out!


Geoff Willard is a 2016 MESM student specializing in Conservation Planning.  This summer he is working as a GIS analyst and researcher with the Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board.

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