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    HomeCommunitySanta Barbara HistoryCachuma Dam: A Bitter Battle In Career of Publisher Storke

    Cachuma Dam: A Bitter Battle In Career of Publisher Storke

    By Jim Tang, Daily Nexus, November 21, 1975

    One of Tom Storke’s most successful campaigns was the construction of Cachuma Dam. It took 18 years for him to win the fight for more water in Santa Barbara, and it was certainly one of the most bitter.

    The south coast population was booming along with the rest of Calfornia in 1940, when Storke went to Oscar Chapman of the Reclamation Bureau in the Department of the Interior. Recognizing the value to the area in terms of flood control and growth, he had to work against the bureaucratic red tape, political opponents who disapproved of the New Deal, and local residents who were opposed to a forty-year loan to cover the $44 million cost.

    Crucial Election

    Nine years after the initial idea was broadcast to the Department of Interior, the matter was put to a vote of the citizens of Santa Barbara County. Realizing that the federal government would require an overwhelming mandate from the local populace before going ahead with the project, Storke threw the weight of the Santa Barbara News-Press into the fray.

    As recounted in his autobiography, “California Editor,” Storke faced “personal abuse and slander from a small minority of diehards… opposed to government spending.” His most vehement opponent was Lewis Welch, a ranchowner whose land would have been inundated by the proposed reservoir.

    Although Welch had been told of the project before he acquired the land, he fought with every conceivable weapon at his disposal. After lobbyists and lawyers failed, he turned on Storke personally. “For pure venom,” Storke wrote, “the city and the county had never seen anything equal to it (Welch’s campaign).”

    Although Welch took his fight against Storke all the way to Washington D.C., Storke’s friendships with persons like Senator Carl Hayden, chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee, then-governor Earl Warren, and Congressman Mike Kirwan, who chaired the House Appropriations Committee, helped pull Cachuma Reservoir through all the legislative hurdles.

    At home, the dam was heavily approved by the local constituency. Although it was a major victory for Storke, it was not the end of the tunnel.

    Even after construction began in 1950, Storke reported continuing battles for the money every year after that until completion in 1953. Then the wait began to see whether the dry Santa Barbara seasons would ever supply enough water to fill the 205,000 acre-foot basin.

    Then, on April 12, 1958, Storke’s hard-fought dream became a reality when water finally ran into the spillway. The way was clear for a growing, vital Santa Barbara.

    APRIL 12, 1958 – Water spilled over Cachuma Dam for the first time at 3:32 p.m., as shown by the clock held by Storke. It was the culmination of an 18-year struggle for water. (Daily Nexus photo)
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