As Ventura enters its seventh year of drought and Lake Casitas drops below 35 percent of capacity, city staff have delivered a new Comprehensive Water Resources Report and it isn’t comforting.
This paragraph immediately jumped out at me:
“The results of this report indicate that the spread between the current water demand and the current water supply is very narrow. If the continued drought condition persists, the supply could be less than the demand. The city’s customers will need to continue to conserve and/or pay penalties for overuse of the city’s water supply sources while the city secures new water supplies. This presents significant challenges for the city moving forward in the ability to allocate water supply to development projects that will generate additional water demands.”
Mother Nature could send us a deluge this winter, so it’s reasonable not to panic. But as our climate changes, it’s also reasonable to believe predictions that our area will become a more arid place.
Statewide, preparations are being made. On May 31, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two new bills which mandate that cities, water districts and large agricultural water districts set strict standards for usage, even in non-drought years.
In September 2014 Ventura declared a Stage 3 Water Shortage Event with a 20 percent mandatory reduction. And we are consuming less water, from a high of 19,014 acre feet in 2008 to a low of 13,973 in 2017. When the new report was presented to the City Council on June 4, they voted to continue our Stage 3 reductions. Our city also has a Net Zero water ordinance which charges a fee for new development which can be reduced through putting conservation measures in place. By law, the money collected can be used only to develop new water sources.
So where does Ventura’s water come from?
The city’s normal supplies include the Casitas Municipal Water District (Lake Casitas), Ventura River/Foster Park, Mound Groundwater Basin, Oxnard Plain Groundwater Basin, Santa Paula Groundwater Basin, and recycled water supplies.
Minutes from the last Casitas Water Resources Committee Meeting show that agency is likely to move from a Stage 3 to a Stage 4 condition. Currently, we receive only 70 percent of our allocation from Lake Casitas. Under Stage 4, it would be further reduced to 60 percent, a loss of 525 acre-feet. That was factored into the new report.
Water from Ventura River/Foster Park may decrease if the drought continues, the Mound Basin is expected to increase slightly with the addition of two new wells, the Oxnard Plain basin is stable for now and the Santa Paula basin, under a legal judgment, could see reductions.
Of note to my District 5 friends: we have some of the hardest water in the county, as our water comes from the Mound Basin.
So what now?
Ventura has a yearly allocation from the California State Water Project, which could provide as much as 4,000 acre-feet in a typical year. But we have not received any of this water because there is no way get it directly into our distribution system.
That’s about to change with the proposed intertie to be built off the Springville exit on the 101 in Camarillo in conjunction with the Calleguas Municipal Water District. It should be in place by 2023, Ventura Water General Manager Kevin Brown told the East Ventura Community Council, adding, “I’m hoping to beat that if I can.”
State water is not meant to add more water into the picture as it is expensive and unreliable, water managers have cautioned. But it will replace sources that have been lost, bring more flexibility, and improve quality when mixed with local resources, especially on the east end. It will also allow the city to build the Ventura WaterPure Project.
Staff is hopeful the WaterPure Project could add 2,381-3,898 acre feet by the year 2025. Touted as “the future of water” at a recent Ventura Water Commission meeting, it comes with a high price tag but it is still cheaper than ocean desalination.
The city is already obligated to divert some of the water discharged into the estuary from the Water Reclamation Facility near Ventura Harbor, per a settlement entered into with the Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper and Heal the Bay. Those organizations brought a Clean Water Act suit against the city in 2010.
The WaterPure project treats our wastewater to purity levels above current drinking water standards. (I’ve tasted it and it was just fine!) It makes sense to reuse this water rather than send it off somewhere else. Currently some is being used for landscaping. There is no regulatory framework yet for injecting this straight into our water supply, a process called direct potable reuse. But it could be mixed with other sources.
And then there is ocean desalination. It could potentially deliver up to 3,000 acre-feet a year, but it would be more expensive than our current sources, and is unlikely to be built before 2030. Surrounding communities are building inland desalters to make our brackish groundwater useable. But, according to Brown, that is not something Ventura is looking at right now.
“Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” goes an old saying. So water challenges aren’t new. But as our weather patterns change, those of us in the drier climates must adapt to new ways of thinking. Ventura is beginning that process.