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Analysis: State Water Project solutions need further development in water plan

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By Richard H. Hajas
On June 24, Casitas Municipal Water District released a Draft Comprehensive Water Resource Plan for public review. The plan was prepared by Stantec Inc., an international design and consulting company. This plan is to be the basis for the most important decisions in Casitas’ history.

The problem
The plan begins with a thorough, well-documented analysis of the “safe yield” of Lake Casitas, which is the average amount of water that can be used from the lake on an annual basis. The historical annual supply of 20,000 acre-feet has been reduced by one-half to 10,660 acre-feet. The plan also projects future average annual water use from the lake through 2040. With permanent conservation measures, annual water use can be reduced from more than 18,000 acre-feet to 16,000 acre-feet. The result of the analysis presents a well-defined problem: an average annual water shortage of more than 5,200 acre-feet per year. That shortage will affect every Casitas customer.

The solutions
The plan contains no new solutions for securing additional water supplies, since all options addressed in the plan are ideas that have been discussed in years past. The plan devotes significant effort to analyzing more than 30 options that would result in little or unknown amounts of water. After a lengthy exercise of rating and evaluating a total of 39 ideas, Stantec concludes that the only source of significant additional water is imported water.

Imported water solutions
The plan presents imported water supply options that have already been considered by Casitas for several years. To receive imported water, Casitas must establish a pipeline connection with Santa Barbara County or a connection through the city of Ventura to Calleguas Municipal Water District, east of the Santa Clara River. Santa Barbara County and Calleguas are both connected to the State Water Project.
Various alternatives exist for accessing the State Water Project through Calleguas, and for Casitas to partner with the city of Ventura to transport water from Calleguas to Casitas. However, Stantec failed to explore alternatives in detail and only provides a cursory and confusing description of two options. With no supporting evidence, Stantec provides cost estimates ranging from $33 million to $136 million for accessing the State Water Project through Calleguas. However, the plan fails to provide any clear explanation for such a vast cost difference or of added benefits of the $136 million option.

Plan recommendation
The plan concludes that the best options are connections to both Santa Barbara County and to Calleguas, with a total price tag of $155 million and estimated completion time of five to 10 years. However, several options or combination of options that could satisfy much of the water-supply deficit in three to five years for far less money have not been presented.

 

Get this right
I was relieved to find I was not the only one confused by the plan’s findings. At Casitas’ July 21 Water Resource Committee meeting, Director Angelo Spandrio presented a two-page list of problems he discovered in the plan document, with a suggestion to rewrite so that those issues can be addressed.
Releasing the plan of more than 300 pages before allowing all five members of the Casitas Board of Directors adequate time to review, discuss and comment can have serious repercussions. Additionally, recent actions by Casitas could have easily led to significant problems. On May 13, only weeks before the draft plan documenting a severe water shortage was released, the board was presented with a recommendation to ease drought restrictions from Stage 3 to Stage 2. 
On July 22, with less than a month to review the plan, the board was asked to consider placing a $155 million bond issue on the November ballot to fund the recommended Plan. Fortunately, the board rejected both actions.
I encourage the Casitas Board of Directors to accept those findings that define the problem and the determination that imported water is our only solution. However, the board should reject the $155 million recommendation and instead, develop a series of State Water Project options that are clearly defined so that informed decisions can be made. After all, the next decisions to be made are the most important and potentially most expensive in Casitas’ history.

— Casitas Board of Directors candidate Richard Hajas has been involved in water and wastewater management for more than 40 years. Although retired, he continues to serve on the Board of Directors of Ojai FLOW (Friends of Locally Owned Water) and is chair of the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency (OBGMA). As a member of the Ojai Valley Water Advisory Group (OVWAG), he recently authored the “Cooperative Regional Approach to Improving Ventura County’s Water Supply Reliability.”