Drought is best time for flood planning
Paradoxically, a drought is the best time to think about flood control. Preparation for floods requires long-term thinking and, when there is no emergency, analysts and planners can do their best work to ensure safe and effective surface water management. During times of actual flooding, only emergency management may be possible; as the saying goes, “When you are up to your waist in alligators, it is hard to remember you are there to drain the swamp.”

Due to wetland protection measures, no one is draining swamps these days, but Ventura County Public Works Agency’s Watershed Protection District (VCPWA WPD) recently scored a major water management victory by improving flood control infrastructure. These changes removed 900 homes and businesses in the Camarillo area from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone designation, tremendously reducing their costs for flood insurance.

Through a $13 million, eight-year project, the district widened a narrow section of creek by 90 feet, widened the rest 156 to 300 feet, lowered the bottom by three feet in depth, and constructed two energy-dissipating drop structures.

The district wasn’t just concerned with flood control, however. Along the way, the strategy was to keep the creek looking as natural as possible. Instead of the wide, stark concrete passages found in many California cities’ flood-fighting structures, the district used a special concrete mix resembling natural soil and stone. It also preserved native vegetation wherever possible, including over half of the creek’s west bank. The west side will also soon boast a pedestrian and bike trail, to be completed later this year.

Is your property at risk for flooding? Visit www.floodsmart.gov to find out what causes flooding, how to understand flood maps and recent changes in how they are drawn, and what kind of insurance is available.

Too much water in storm drains
During this time of drought, we still have too much water going down our storm drains. Broken sprinklers and sprinkler timers set for excessive watering intervals are two common culprits. Water washes over dirty or contaminated surfaces such as oil-stained streets and recently fertilized lawns, flowing into our storm drains and then out to the ocean.

Fortunately, Ventura County residents seem to be improving with practices such as reducing over-watering, picking up litter, conserving water, properly maintaining cars, picking up after pets and avoiding runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from lawns.

Evidence of improvements can be seen in the most recent edition of the Beach Report Card (BRC), created by the nonprofit organization Heal the Bay. The BRC uses monitoring data from local health agencies and dischargers, with Ventura County’s Environmental Health Department performing the monitoring of our beaches. The BRC grades hundreds of locations along the West Coast on an A-to-F scale, based on fecal indicator bacteria concentrations in the surf zone. The better the grade a beach receives, the lower the risk of illness to ocean users.

According to the report, available at healthebay.org, “Results for Ventura County were excellent this past year, with 100% of locations receiving A grades for summer dry water, and 100% A or B grades for winter dry- and wet-weather grades.” Ventura County also beat the statewide average for all time periods. These results are a great reassurance for those of us who have been using local beaches this summer, but those thinking of hitting the beach elsewhere may want to double-check their destinations’ grades and see if they are on the Beach Bummers list.

Contest communicated need for drought response
A fun contest just ended, and now you can see the results. Ventura Water, the agency coordinating water management for the city of Ventura issued a challenge to all county residents to drive a dirty car for at least the month of July.

Promoting the message “a little dirt won’t hurt,” organizers promoted dirty cars as a visible sign of the community working together to save our water. The “Don’t Wash Your Car” challenge and contest asked participants to post pictures of their dirty cars on Ventura Water’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/venturawater). Ventura Water awarded prizes to the drivers of cars with “Don’t wash me” scrawled in the dirt.

The contest was important because water supplies are shrinking, and many communities in Ventura County rely on local sources, which are replenished only by rain. In April, the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency approved an emergency ordinance restricting groundwater pumping and reducing allocations to users. Lake Casitas is at less than 58 percent of capacity.

The drought is a serious problem, but a fun response to it can raise awareness.

David Goldstein is an analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, and material for this column was provided by Nancy Brochart, Bram Sercu and Alicia Rutledge.