Pictured: The Ventura River at Foster Park. Still image from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper video. Link below. 

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com 

On Aug. 24, the city of Ventura and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper announced they have signed an amended settlement agreement to resolve disputes about water flow in the Ventura River at Foster Park. 

“Our prior arrangement with the City had expired so we expected to be revisiting an interim flow commitment. When dealing with minimum flows, every drop matters, so this increased commitment to protect the river is significant,” said Ben Pitterle, science and policy director with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, pointing out the benefit of this agreement occurring “outside of court, without prolonged delay or negotiation, and I think that shows progress as well. Before we became involved in this, there was nothing that prevented the city or other pumpers from pumping the river completely dry. I’m hopeful that such actions will be a thing of the past.”

VENTURA RIVER WATERSHED ADJUDICATION PROCEEDING The action taken by the city of Ventura involving over 12,000 properties in the watershed is moving forward and is not directly impacted by the settlement between Channelkeeper and the city.  The court scheduled the next Status Conference for 2 p.m. on Nov. 16 at Los Angeles County Superior Court, Complex Civil Litigation Division, Department No. 010, 312 North Spring St., Los Angeles. For information on making a telephonic appearance, please visit courtcall.com/?c=CCHOME, or call 888-882-6878. Los Angeles County Superior Court has granted the city’s request to push back the deadline for parties to file and join the action to Oct. 30.  Property owners with questions or who wish to file to join the action can contact an attorney or visit the city’s information website at www.venturariverwatershedadjudication.com.

“This agreement does not alter the adjudication proceedings,” currently underway between the city and the owners of over 12,000 properties in the Ventura River Watershed, said Pitterle. “But it definitely helps protect the river more until everything is eventually finalized.” He said the city must abide by the terms of this agreement at least until the adjudication process is complete and the courts judgement in that matter is filed with the court. 

“We are pleased to continue this important dialogue with Channelkeeper,” said Susan Rungren, General Manager with Ventura Water. “And I believe this amendment strikes a balance of addressing our concerns for the species and habitat while also meeting the needs of serving our customers.” 

The agreement requires the city to monitor river flows and stop pumping if the flow drops. Emergency actions are also included in the agreement. 

“While the emergency conditions under this settlement agreement are unlikely to occur, the city does operate an extensive water conservation program and its customers have really responded to the call to conserve, “ said Susan Rungren, general manager with Ventura Water. 

Background

Channelkeeper filed a lawsuit against the city and the California State Water Resources Control Board in 2014 after nearly two decades of trying to get the city to stop over pumping water from the river at its well field at Foster Park. Channelkeeper’s position was that the pumping negatively impacted fish and other wildlife in the river, in violation of rules the state water board was supposed to enforce. 

The agreement amends the first settlement reached by the parties on Sept. 30, 2019 and describes actions the city must take when daily water flows reach certain levels and in the event the city must stop pumping, and cannot obtain water from other sources it creates emergency actions such as prohibitions on outside watering, pool refilling and other bans on water use in west Ventura that is not related to health and safety uses. 

In a joint statement the city and Channelkeeper stated their intention to “ keep a dialogue open to identify additional ways to work collaboratively on other Watershed and habitat-related public relations efforts.”

Both parties state the agreements “provide added assurance to Channelkeeper for the better protection of steelhead during the dry season while the City works with other parties to propose a long-term framework that protects the Ventura River for steelhead and other instream uses and for the needs of water users, recreation, and the local economy.”

Required city actions

According to the agreement the city has to “monitor the impact of pumping on instream flows” for the period of time the agreement is in effect and must “shut down wells Nye 7 and 8 before noon” on the next business day after “daily average flows as measured at the VR-1 gage fall below 4.0 [cubic feet per second] CFS for three consecutive days,” and if those flows fall under 3.0 CFS on any of those three consecutive days the city must “also shut down the subsurface intake.” 

Monitoring must include the “impact of continued pumping at the subsurface intake” when the wells have been shut down. If monitoring reveals a “sustained impact” the parties must come together in a specified time frame to agree on a solution. If they can’t solve the issue themselves, they still have the option of further legal action. 

“The City needed to include a provision that it could temporarily modify or suspend its pumping restrictions at Foster Park in the unlikely event of an emergency,” said Rungren, responding to the VC Reporter by email. Emergency actions include banning the use of potable water for all non health and safety uses, such as irrigation. She said such measures would be enforced through the city’s Water Conservation Ordinance. “The City will implement those water conservation actions in the western portion of the City only if the City is unable to obtain replacement water from Casitas Municipal Water District.  If this were to occur, which again, is very unlikely, the City would communicate the situation to affected customers.”

The agreement allows for exemptions from the requirements in the event of emergency conditions, and if the city cannot “obtain sufficient usable replacement water from Casitas Municipal Water District,” or other water sources. 

According to the joint statement the city intends to continue a pilot program that was set to expire in March 2020, which involves reducing “pumping and diversion of water from the Ventura River when flows drop during dry times, in order to help protect wildlife that depend on the river.” 

Click here to review the full settlement document: 2020.08.20 SBCK v. City of Ventura Settlement Agreement Amendment

Video by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper about their action at www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcMJuNJhJx4&feature=youtu.be