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Op-Ed by Larry Yee on OVN OPINION page: Why the proposed 'Physical Solution' for water doesn't work

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By Larry Yee
Probably most of you reading this haven’t a clue about Ventura’s latest action in the ongoing adjudication lawsuit against pumpers and water users in the Ojai Valley.  
The Ojai Valley News has been trying to draw some attention to it by featuring an analysis article by Richard Hajas, soon to be the latest new member on the Casitas Municipal Water Board. Also, the OVN asked Pete Kaiser, incumbent for Division 3 on the board, and the other two candidates what they thought about the “physical solution” proposal. Other than that, unless you follow the lawsuit closely, you most likely are in the dark.
For at least a year and a half or more, a group calling themselves the consumptive users has been meeting behind closed doors to try to work out a cooperative agreement that they hope would render the lawsuit unnecessary. Ever since summonses were sent to thousands of property owners in the Ojai Valley, attorneys now representing some of the aggrieved parties as well as the attorneys representing Ventura have been dominating these meetings. On Sept. 15, the city of Ventura published and made public an 80-page legal document that describes this group’s stipulated agreement for the “physical solution.” In the original adjudication lawsuit, there were nine claims for relief. Nearly all of them deal with water rights being claimed by Ventura. Only one deals with a “physical solution.”
What is this “physical solution”? Simply, it proposes a number of measures that, supposedly, if implemented, will improve the habitat in and along the Ventura River primarily for the benefit of the fish population, notably the steelhead. It also institutes a court-imposed structure called a Management Committee that will become a new layer of bureaucracy in an already-crowded field of governmental entities having jurisdiction in the Ventura River Watershed.
 This Management Committee will have the power to impose fees (it will claim it needs $2 million a year.) to implement the measures proposed in the “physical solution.
Why the “physical solution” doesn’t work: 
1. We, the water customers, have had no say in the process of the proposal’s development and you are not allowed to comment on it to the court unless you are one of the parties to the lawsuit. If this is approved by the judge, it will amount to governance and taxation without representation.
2. Months ago, Casitas pulled out of the talks. Without the largest water entity involved, how can Ventura claim a workable solution that was fairly processed? 
3. It only deals with one of the nine claims in the adjudication lawsuit and Ventura retains the right to sue over the other water rights claims at any time in the future. This means your water rights will still be in jeopardy. It doesn’t resolve anything.
4. It doesn’t deal with the flow in the Ventura River, which is what the original dispute was all about. Next year, the State Water Board, after studying the flow for the past two to three years, will be coming out with its recommended flow objective. So isn’t this proposed solution premature?
5. It doesn’t do anything about securing additional water for the Ojai Valley which should be everyone’s No. 1 concern.
6. It adds an extra layer of bureaucracy that is expensive and unnecessary. Casitas could easily assume and manage most of the projects it is proposing.
7. All along, there has been no transparency in the process. Trust and clarity have been absent. 
For as much time and money spent developing this “physical solution” proposal, it certainly doesn’t purport to accomplish much. In my opinion, it will simply complicate and delay dealing with the real water issues facing us here in the Ojai Valley.  

— Larry Yee lives in Ojai.

 

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