People crowded into an Ojai junior high school auditorium recently after thousands received legal notices or a court summons from the city of Ventura. The city notified 14,000-plus property owners in the Ventura River watershed of a potential adjudication of water rights. That move came years after the city faced legal action over its own water use. In 2014, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper filed a lawsuit alleging the city was taking too much water from the river, hurting habitat for steelhead trout and other wildlife. The nonprofit sued to compel the state to intervene, analyze the city’s pumping and set conditions on it if appropriate.
There’s a lot of confusion and concern about what will happen once the city of Ventura no longer discharges millions of gallons of water into the Santa Clara River Estuary.
There are questions over what will happen to the birds, fish, turtles, ducks and other critters once their environment dramatically changes.
Desalination began to lose its urgency among Californians and their public officials two years ago, after the drought-busting winter of 2016-17, when heavy rain and snow ended dry conditions in most of the state. The idea of drawing potable water from the sea became even less of a priority this year, when an autumn of record-level fires gave way to one of the state’s wettest winters on record. Reservoirs are brimming. Instead of desperately seeking new sources of water, Californians were moaning about the billions of excess gallons that washed into the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. Depleted aquifers began their path to replenishment, too, with snow levels in the water-producing Sierra Nevada Mountains far above normal.
Ventura started paying for its right to state water in 1971. On Monday night, policymakers took the biggest step yet to being able to access it. The Ventura City Council voted 6-0 to approve a study certifying no major environmental impacts would result from building the 7-mile pipeline near Camarillo. The action means the city’s next move is hiring a consultant to draft the interconnection’s final design. The state-mandated Environmental Impact Report flagged six areas of concern. “All issues are temporary, related to construction,” Meredith Clement, a water consultant to the city, told the council.
Close to $3 million worth of water has rushed down the Santa Clara River over the past several weeks to recharge groundwater basins in the Oxnard Plain. The release was part of a deal between the United Water Conservation District and Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency to help recharge aquifers still struggling after years of drought. United told the Fox Canyon board it could purchase extra water from the California Water Project thanks to a particularly wet winter statewide. Fox Canyon then would buy roughly 15,000 acre-feet of water once it made it to spreading ponds near Oxnard and Camarillo.
There is an obvious connection between the proposed multibillion-dollar Sacramento Delta Water Tunnels, the proposed mining/pumping of water from the Mojave Desert, Central Valley farmers lacking the water resources to maximize food production, and the Sacramento River and fishing stocks suffering from inadequate water flows. That connection is the State Water Project, which pumps water to Southern California and reduces the river water needed for fisheries, farmers, and the river itself. The reality is Southern California needs water and if we don’t produce it here, then we’re going to take it anywhere we can find it, regardless of environmental damage and economic considerations.
When the Thomas Fire reached Ventura city limits early on Dec. 5, 2017, a critical tool to help curb the flames quickly disappeared: water.
Some of the more than 500 people who ultimately lost their homes sued Ventura over that lack of water, though they later directed their energy at Southern California Edison, which investigators found caused the fire.
In a first-of-its-kind move, the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency agreed to pay up to $3 million to help recharge overstressed groundwater resources in Ventura County. The money will buy roughly 15,000 acre-feet of water, which started spilling out of Santa Felicia Dam at Lake Piru Monday. From there, the water rushes down creeks and the Santa Clara River past Fillmore and Santa Paula to Freeman Diversion off Los Angeles Avenue near Oxnard. Its destination: Spreading ponds near Oxnard and Camarillo. Then, the water will start slowly seeping into the ground and recharging the aquifer – relief sorely needed after a years-long drought, said Jeff Pratt, the county’s public works director.
Tom Dudley stood at an old Fillmore watercress farm off a rural stretch of highway and described the dream. A forest of willow and cottonwood trees, shallow wetlands for wading birds and some deeper spots for ducks – all just a football field or so from what many call the last wild river in Southern California. The Santa Clara stretches 84 miles and through two counties from the San Gabriel Mountains to the ocean just south of Ventura Harbor. Over the past 20 years, millions of dollars have been invested to protect and restore the river, work that some say has reached a tipping point.
County supervisors have outlawed drilling of certain new oil wells in the vicinity of a major aquifer for 45 days in light of water-safety questions. The decision Tuesday by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors came a couple of months after scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey reported that they had found petroleum-related gases in wells supplying irrigation water on the Oxnard Plain.The moratorium applies to the drilling of new wells and the re-drilling of existing ones near the Fox Canyon Aquifer, which is described as a major source of drinking quality groundwater.