Ventura Water’s New Director

Last year I wrote about how Lake Casitas was at its lowest level ever, at just 35% of capacity. (You can read that here.) Then we got good rain. Nearly six inches in a single day in Ventura and my roof began to leak and I was actually kind of OK with it because it had been so dry for so long. The trouble was, despite the deluge, it was quick and fierce and it did nothing to depress long-term demand in the region. Quite the opposite, it would turn out. Whereas the drought that persisted through 2015 had elicited frank, difficult discussions about how we allocate water and what we want our community to look like in the future, the drought doesn’t come up much anymore. Construction continues and lawns are lush. This despite the fact that Ventura County never really came out of a drought, according to USGS’ Drought Monitor project. The El Nino raindrops lulled us to sleep, it seems. And now Lake Casitas is back down in the 36 percentile, nearly as low as its lowest low ever, just one year later. Mandatory water cut-backs remain in place, though many of us seem to not know the difference anymore.

Some interesting water developments over this year.

  • Shana Epstein, general manager for Ventura Water, resigned. This was made public at a March 22, 2017, meeting convened by District 1 Supervisor Steve Bennett. Epstein, who kept a Beverly Hills street sign with her name on it in her Ventura office left for–Beverly Hills. (Epstein never actually lived in Ventura, for what it’s worth.)
  • Meanwhile it was announced around the same time that the City of Ventura, for the first time in its history, would begin work on a permanent connection to the State Water Project via Calleguas Water District. In return, Calleguas would be able to “bank” water in Ventura’s aquifers and in Lake Casitas in case they ever run out. For it’s part, the City of Ventura will take less water from Casitas, in hopes that the lake might recover faster.
  • And Lake Casitas took over control of water delivery for the City of Ojai–at a tune of $34.4 million dollars. This was based on a feasibility study from 2011! I wonder what the authors of that study would think about the price tag and how that might affect feasibility? Or persistent, historic drought?

All of this was made public in the same week or so last March. A lot to digest. I don’t mean to disparage any of the people who work for the agencies above. I like Shana Epstein, thought she did a really good job here, and wish her the best. What concerns me is the lack of historical knowledge and vision within the system. For example, the interim general manager squeezed through approval for a 200-unit housing development by citing two-year rain averages. If he had looked out three, five, or ten years, according the VC Star, the project might not have been deemed sustainable. And now he’s gone! On Sept. 5, 2017, the City of Ventura announced that Kevin Brown, a Naval Engineer from Washington, D.C., will be at the helm.

There is now surface water running at the mouth of the Ventura River. That’s good news. But what about 50 years from now? What does it all look like then and does that vision reflect the values of our community? To that end, I wish Mr. Brown, and us, luck.

 

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