Ms. Henry, assistant managing editor of the Bakersfield Californian, reports on water issues from the perspective of Kern County, one of the state's largest producers of grapes, almonds, milk and citrus, and of politically influential agribusinesses.
Kern County's fascination with the minutiae of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta politics reflects its dependency on Delta water. Compare and contrast with the rather smug opinions and self-congratulation of coastal Ventura County folk. Aside from some overdrafting in the Oxnard farming area, they appear to be sitting in a catbird seat, including laughable claims to State Water Project paper water and maybe a deal with Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as the county "builds out" and the developer "footprint" enlarges a few sizes.
Right now, Ventura is mildly concerned about rain. Coastal insouciance is so charming.
LOIS HENRY: Island water deal gets even more complicated
Does the gargantuan Metropolitan Water District (MWD) want four delta islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta just to help get Gov. Jerry Brown’s “twin tunnel” project off the ground?
MWD says no. Suspicious delta folks say, yeah right.
No doubt lawyers will make a lot of money either way.
Of greater interest to me are the three Kern County agricultural water districts quietly hanging on to MWD’s coattails and what they hope to gain from the ride.
To refresh your memory, I wrote several months ago about how Rosedale-Rio Bravo, Semitropic and Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa water storage districts had teamed up with MWD to buy four delta islands to shore up local water supplies.
The idea, initially, was that two of the islands would be flooded in wet years so the water could be used in dry times. The other two islands would be used for farming and habitat mitigation.
At least that's been the general thrust of the so-called Delta Wetlands Project for the better part of 20 years.
In fact, in 2012 a large collection of Kern water districts made an offer to Zurich American, which owns the islands and worked on environmental documents and permits to get the Delta Wetlands project OK’d. Kern’s offer was rejected as too low and locals couldn’t see paying the asking price, about $200 million, or $10,000 an acre.
When I wrote about the apparent partnership with the giant Southern California water district last fall, the project was still described as a storage/retrieval deal.
That appears to have changed.
Now, MWD is looking at multiple uses for those islands, according to General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
But a 2013 settlement agreement between numerous delta interests and Zurich American placed a lot of restrictions on how the islands can be used.
Though Kightlinger ticked off a host of possible uses MWD was considering for the islands, the one causing the greatest angst is coordination with the twin tunnels. The tunnels would route Sacramento River water around the sensitive delta to state water contractors in the south.
Either the tunnels could go through the islands themselves, or the property could be used to store the massive amounts of dirt excavation would create.
Kightlinger tried to back burner the tunnel issue, saying it’s not even clear if the islands would be a good alignment for the tunnels, though he acknowledged they could be used to store waste or as an entry point for digging the tunnels.
But that’s just one use among many he and MWD’s attorneys are researching in conjunction with the 2013 settlement restrictions.
If any aspect of aiding the tunnels — excavating for them or storing dirt or wastewater — is out, I asked, would MWD walk away from buying the islands?
He couldn’t say.
Rob Kunde, Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa, and Eric Averett, Rosedale-Rio Bravo, echoed Kightlinger’s ambivalence about the restrictions would affect the potential purchase.
The restrictions, they said, might reduce the price they’re willing to pay. But neither would say they’d walk away if the restrictions turn out to be iron-clad.
When Kern water districts were looking at the islands on their own, they simply wanted to use them for storage, which is allowed under the 2013 restrictions. It was MWD that brought the tunnel wrinkle into the mix, Averett said.
“But it’s not like Kern only wants the storage project and MWD wants the tunnels,” Averett said. “We’re aligned in looking at the property for multiple uses.”
Kunde said if Kern participates in the tunnels project, owning those islands could be advantageous in terms of reducing costs by easing right-of-way acquisition, serving as repositories for dirt or habitat restoration.
The key word to my ears was “if.”
I’ve been writing about the increased discontent of local water districts with the twin tunnels’ massive costs and lack of guaranteed water for some time. A few districts have already pulled out of continuing to fund the effort.
How would this all work if a substantial number of Kern districts pulled their tunnel funding?
Hard to say.
Either way, though, delta folks have vowed to hold the Delta Wetands project, no matter who owns it, to every letter in every restriction of that 2013 agreement.
As with most water issues in California, stay tuned.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry. Her column runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ventura County Star
Editorial: The need for a water strategy takes California by storm
As we eagerly anticipate the rain of El Niño that is promised to start next month, we are hearing a growing drumbeat to find more and better ways to save that rainwater for California's next drought.
The expected wet winter will trigger more talk of building additional reservoirs in California. As we watch the rain wash out to the ocean, those of us who have so diligently cut back on our shower time and allowed our lawns to turn brown this summer will start thinking more dams and lakes are just what California needs.
It does seem like a good idea to have additional reservoir capacity to capture the water in the rainy years to save for the dry ones. But, like most everything else in California, it's all about the money.
A recent report in the Los Angeles Times looked at three major storage projects suggested for northern and central California. Combined, the three would cost $10 billion. If all were built, the Times reported, that would increase the average annual water supply by 1 percent of our overall usage. It would go up to 1.5 percent of statewide use in dry years.
That's a lot of money for what seems like a fairly small boost in our supply. Remember that just last year California voters gladly voted for a water bond issue to help provide money for more reservoirs and groundwater storage. But the total statewide amount of that bond was $2.7 billion, which would only make a small dent in the cost of those three storage projects.
We're not willing to block the bulldozers and oppose any
and all future dams on principle. We certainly aren't keen on the idea of drowning more of California's acreage. But if it can be proved that one or more of those projects meet a solid cost-benefit scenario, then we could endorse it as long as the local impact of the project was minimal.
California currently has an estimated 1,400 reservoirs that collectively hold on to about half of the state's annual runoff. But they are only as valuable as the water that comes into them and a four-year drought, like we have experienced, will dry out reservoirs old and new.
As we wait for the rains to start, we need to continue to look for broad and multiple solutions to California's seemingly eternal water shortage.
As a state, we have done a remarkable job in the last year in conserving in our homes and our places of business. Farmers continue to be creative about what and how they plant to make the most use of water supplies. Managers of our groundwater sources are making great strides in finding reasonable ways to manage and stimulate aquifers. Environmentalists are learning more about impacts of changes in waterflows on historical flora and fauna.
There is no best single solution. California is working, as it should, on multiple options. Together, all those involved can agree on one thing: let it rain.
Ventura County Reporter
Water sources aplenty for Ventura
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.