Ventura has a large supply of water, from numerous independent sources, enough for many years into the future, and which can be increased. It receives water via its own wells from four separate basins: the Oxnard Plain groundwater basin, the Santa Paula groundwater basin, the Mound groundwater basin and the Ventura River. It is also entitled to water from Lake Casitas by virtue of a contract with Casitas Municipal Water District, CMWD. Plus it has rights to the State Water Project, which it does not receive yet, and it could join the Metropolitan Water District, which has a consistent supply from its significant reservoirs. Ventura has also barely scratched the surface of water recycling.
The reason the city recently adopted a 20 percent reduction in consumption is because the governor asked every city to do so, regardless of its water supply circumstances. In Ventura’s case, the governor’s one size does not fit all. Most California cities you can name depend on State Water. Ventura does not.
Ventura’s ability to produce water is currently approximately 25,000 acre-feet per year and it delivers about 18,000 acre-feet per year. An acre foot is 325,851 gallons, enough for three families for a year, or about a half an acre or less of agriculture per year. The 25,000 acre-foot amount is calculated from the maximum pumping of all existing wells and sources, not the amount of water in any of its water tables, which amounts are far larger than that. New wells could add to the supply. The City’s 2013 Comprehensive Water Resources Report by RBF Consulting enumerated the sources and their production.
The roughly 7,000 acre foot-annual surplus water production can supply the 2025 General Plan’s ultimate build-out, which was planned for the birth rate minus the death rate. The actual water production capability is far higher than the demand or the foreseeable future demand.
Ventura’s water agency has produced no hydrologist’s report defining the size of its water tables. It should hire a licensed hydrologist to determine the amount of water in its water tables. The historical production volumes do not define the underground geography, obviously. They are demand levels, not supply indicators. Yet the city’s consultants have used the production records as if they were demonstrative of the underlying supply, when they are not.
None of the basins is overdrafted, except the relatively small portion of Ventura’s supply that comes from the Oxnard Plain. There are no cutbacks on any of the other three basins, nor should there be. The Santa Paula groundwater basin production was allocated between the city and area farmers, with the city entitled to 3,000 acre-feet per year, but behind the farmers in priority. In a water emergency, the city is entitled to an additional 3,000 acre-feet from the Santa Paula basin. Many of the Santa Paula groundwater basin farmers do not use their full allocation, and many would gladly sell or lease their rights to the city. Has the city made any inquiry into acquiring that water? No.
The Ventura River surface and subsurface collectors also provide water in the rainy season. These rights and the river area well rights derive from the 18th Ccentury Mission era, passed down to the city by its purchase of the Santa Ana Water Company, whose owners included Eugene Preston Foster. These pre-1914 water rights predate regulation and are therefore permanently vested.
Lake Casitas has a capacity of 254,000 acre-feet, or enough to serve the district’s entire annual water use of approximately 16,000 acre-feet for about 15 years. The current lake level is reportedly 51.8 percent, which is 131,572 acre-feet, approximately an eight-year supply.
Ventura has a contract with the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD), which calls for Ventura to purchase a minimum of 8,000 acre feet per year. It has not purchased more than 6,000 acre-feet per year in recent years, however. The only provision in that contract that refers to any reductions in delivery is that when the lake gets to “between 65,000 and 90,000 acre-feet” CMWD may reduce deliveries to 6,025 acre-feet. 5 Since that is more than Ventura uses, there is no reduction involved, and the supply is strong into the future. By the way, 65,000 acre-feet is 25.6 percent of the lake’s capacity, and 90,000 acre feet is 35.4 percent.
Ventura is also permitted under the contract to “rent” water from the CMWD when deliveries are needed outside the CMWD district, which extends east to about Dos Caminos Avenue. This contract has been of benefit to CMWD because it needed to demonstrate a means of repaying the bonds it issued to retrofit the dam and water treatment facility, and sales of water to Ventura were the means of doing so. It also gave Ventura an additional source. It is a win-win arrangement.
The actual volume that Ventura could achieve by maximizing its production is much higher. Most studies have relied upon the amount of water produced, not the amount of the water resource that can be produced, due to a shortage of geological information. The true amount of feasible yield in the ground in any of the basins other than the Oxnard Plain has never been determined. A hydrologist studying the geology of the basins and the well information could provide that. The Ventura city government should order those studies to adequately establish the long-term supply.
Ventura also has a large untapped water resource in the potential to reuse the roughly 10,000 acre-feet per year of treated water it dumps into the Santa Clara River from its sewage treatment plant. Today, it uses that water minimally to irrigate only Olivas Park Golf Course, San Buenaventura Golf Course and Marina Park. Those uses total some 750 acre-feet per year, less than 1 percent of the discharge. Caltrans is a significant water user, and could purchase and use some of the treated water, freeing up an equal amount for municipal use. A plan to take a “purple pipeline” marked for recycled water to the larger users in Ventura, including the college and the city’s parks, could free up yet more potable water supplies. Eventual use by private sector customers could make even more basin water available for potable water users.
A potential reuse of the reclaimed water from the sewer plant could assist the United Water Conservation District in fighting seawater intrusion. The bureaucratic barriers to that possible reuse, including state agencies’ arbitrary decisions, need to be resolved.
The city of Ventura has large amounts of water from its four water tables, its contractual rights to Lake Casitas’ reservoir, and its winter surface and subsurface collectors’ water rights from the Ventura River. Ventura has the right to connect to the State Water Project, and it is possible for it to join the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. State Water was delivered to Lake Casitas through Oxnard and Ventura in the early 1990s as a favor to Santa Barbara, and it could be delivered to Ventura just as easily.
Fervent anti-growth operatives have been seeking attention recently, claiming falsely that Ventura has a water shortage when it does not. These are people who are not concerned with the city’s ability to accommodate the natural growth rate, for political, not scientific, reasons. Young people, especially young families, are not helped by such misrepresentations. That anti-growth fanaticism also stifles investment by the private sector, which is crucial for job creation, commercial prosperity and a tax base.
Persons who are interested in the facts will determine that there are few if any cities in California or the nation that are as well supplied with as many reliable water supply sources as Ventura.
Kioren Moss is a real estate appraiser and consultant in Ventura.