Ventura Water’s plan, which we recently received in the mail, encourages without requiring water conservation. If you want to use more water than permitted at various Tier levels, you simply pay more for that water. This is conservation through monetary disincentives. It does not restrict water use. And of course, it does not create new supplies.
At a public meeting on April 21 Shana Epstein, general manager of Ventura Water, did publicly call our situation a “crisis.” But response to a crisis should require more than a soft monetary overcharge.
So how bad is our crisis?
Epstein explained that hydrologists calculate that our aquifers are down between 19 percent and 25 percent. This is a serious deficit. And we presume very little water is replenishing those aquifers these days. We know things are serious when Ventura Water applied for emergency replenishments from Oxnard wells since ours have dipped below potability standards, obviously due to too much pumping.
There are other factors. Our Ventura River supply is extremely low. On April 23, only 1.3 cubic feet of water per second spilled over the minidam in Foster Park. This is a mere 2 percent of the historical average of 60 cubic feet per second, a radical reduction.
Even more alarming, Lake Casitas has dropped just below 50 percent capacity. This decrease triggers a Level 2 alert and gives the Casitas Municipal Water District the authority to impose a building moratorium on new water hookups.
Ventura River Supply
Photo by: RL Chianese
A building moratorium now makes sense since we are already in a crisis that may intensify. Each year gets declared the hottest year yet, as was 2014, and 2015 portends the same. For us in the West that likely means more drought. Our current rain year has ended with things only getting worse. The new rainy season in the fall holds out a weird hope for rain: some unexplained blobs of warm water off the coast could potentially bring an EL Niño rain event.
We are hoping for rain, but not really planning to be without it.
We should impose the M word — a moratorium on new building hookups — since we are already in crisis mode just to supply water to existing customers. Adding new customers in a crisis seems folly if not reckless.
At another meeting, we learn from Epstein that Ventura added only 29 new hookups last year (with 32,000 total for the city). That’s very low (.09 percent), but notice we were in crisis mode even before those were added. But pending permits in the “pipeline” for over 4,000 new hookups (12.5 percent more) should really alarm us. One feels vulnerable, our families and friends unprotected by this irrational allocation of water we do not have.
The Ventura City Council is discussing a new Residential Growth Management System. But that could take months to develop and approve with no assurance the Council has the political will to face our water crisis.
We must help our leaders accept the inevitable need to stop adding more folks to those using our already depleted water supplies.
The M word is unpleasant and for some a violation of an American credo — growth at any cost. There is still another worse word we can only whisper right now, an R word — Rationing! How we might cooperate to ration water — per person? per household? who polices it? — is likely too much for many to contemplate. So let’s don’t go there. Let’s stop new building and water hookups in time of extreme drought and try to conserve the dwindling water supplies we do have.
Robert Chianese, Ph. D., is retired professor of English from CSU Northridge and its Ventura campus. His current essay on ecology and art appears in American Scientist magazine (http://www.americanscientist.org/). He is a past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Pacific Division, and founder of the Sustainability Council of Ventura County.