Op-Ed

Op-Ed

Op-Ed on Opinion page: Larry Yee: 'Water wake-up call'

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By Larry Yee

 While our attention has been diverted and our lives hugely disrupted by COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and more, Ojai Valley water issues and challenges have continued unabated. Water issues are not simple or straightforward. They are complicated and tangled with many players and interests in the mix, comparable to a three-dimensional chess game played on a board that changes all the time.

Soon, important decisions will be made that will have far-ranging consequences as our future is inextricably tied to water. We need to make sure that our decision-makers and institutions have the capacity and are able to exercise effective leadership to make the best plans to move us forward.
Of particular note is Casitas’ Comprehensive Water Resources Plan (CWRP), which was recently made public and designed to study the lake’s safe yield (the amount of water that could be taken from the lake each year without jeopardizing its long-term sustainability) and to analyze all possible options for diversifying and increasing our water supply. 
Until now, the safe yield, which was the basis of district’s policies and plans, was approximately 20,000 acre-feet per year. That figure was calculated during an abnormally wet period ending in 2005, so that no longer applies. The CWRP has now established a more realistic figure of 10,600 acre-feet per year, which is appropriate for the projected drier times ahead. 
Why is this important? This means all the policies setting water allocations, water rates, conservation measures, supply/demand projections, etc., will have to be redone accordingly. Water allocations could be halved, with water rates increased significantly and conservation measures more rigorous.
Here is the worst-case scenario we all need to think about. According to CWRP models and projections, the lake could go dry in six years. Thus, everything depends on rainfall because any plans to diversify and increase supply will require infrastructure development that will take years in permitting, planning and building.
The other major action adding to our predicament is Ventura’s adjudication lawsuit over water rights and the needs of in-stream uses. While the ultimate decision/settlement is, perhaps, years away, enormous amounts of time, money and resources are being wasted when a collaborative regional solution could be sought and implemented. 
We should be particularly grateful to the Ojai Valley News for keeping water on the front burner. The editorial of July 17 regarding Ventura’s postcard mailing about the adjudication lawsuit was accurate, informative, and rightfully indignant about Ventura’s disingenuousness and facetious attempt at transparency, as the postcard’s purpose is unclear and confusing, at best. 
Casitas has approved $600,000 for legal expenses associated with the lawsuit, an annual sum to be paid by us, the water users and rate payers. And like COVID-19, this could all get worse before it gets better.
We need competent leaders who have the commitment and capacity to deal with the challenges ahead. I could not be more pleased that Richard Hajas has decided to run for the Casitas Municipal Water District Board. He is by far the most qualified water professional in the Ojai Valley. 
In addition to his long list of credentials, he was the chief architect of Ojai FLOW’s takeover of Golden State Water. Then, three years ago, he worked with the Ojai Valley Water Advisory Group and crafted the Three Sisters Plan, a cooperative regional plan designed to make better use of the lake’s storage to meet our future water needs. In my opinion, no better plan has been developed since the Three Sisters Plan was published.
So, what can you do?  Stay as informed as possible. Get involved to the extent you feel moved. Vote this October/November. And continue to conserve and hope for rain.
 

— Larry Yee of Ojai is a member of the Ojai Valley Water Advisory Group. He is also retired as director and adviser emeritus of the University of California Cooperative Extension.

 

Correction

The writer corrected his Op-Ed to state that “the worst-case scenario” is that Lake Casitas could go dry in six years, according to Casitas Municipal Water District’s Comprehensive Water Resources Plan.