Water in Ventura

Lake Casitas at 35% capacity.

I’m excited and pleased to have a feature in the winter issue of Craftsmanship Quarterly about water in Ventura. Read it here. It’s a great magazine and I look forward to future issues.

I couldn’t have done it with out the expert editing and support of Todd Oppenheimer. Duane L. Georgeson is probably the leading expert on the California State Water Project and was an immensely important influence and source and now a friend. Ben Pitterle of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper isn’t just knowledgeable on topics like local aquifers and tributaries, he’s also the kind of person to get in there and experience the mischief and mystery of these things (great stories). Mike Kiparsky of the U.C. Berkeley Wheeler Institute is the leading expert on the critical nexus of ecology and law when it comes to the State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). He’s also one of those rare experts who is generous with his time and wisdom. Finally, none of this would have happened with out the outsized generosity and openness of my cowboy friend Roger Haley. His family is heading into its second century on this land and it’s a proud legacy of stewardship and tradition and they will do well.

Water is a workhorse of a word. We perhaps demand too much of it. When I began on the project, an affable and stylish man of about 50 asked me what I was working on. “Water in Ventura,” I said.

“Oh, you mean all the brain cancer from it? Good luck with that. I only drink the bottled stuff myself.”

When it abounds, we scrutinize its quality. When it’s scarce, we scrutinize each other. When it falls from the sky it’s rain. When it falls from a cold sky it’s sleet or snow or hail. Where it flows fresh we call it a river or creek or stream or tributary. As that drys and cracks we call it mud. To the water manager it’s a commodity and public relations risk (keep it cheap). To the consumer its mostly an afterthought (ranked slightly before cable television). To some it’s sacred. There is no life without it, which is everywhere and nowhere at once.

(I almost wish the title of the piece had been ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Water.’)

Here in Ventura we have an opportunity to see it for what it is, because we are so close to our water. We are bound by two rivers, the Ventura and the Santa Clara, and an ocean, the Pacific. On that fourth dimension there are mountains–and creeks and rivers and meadows–and that is our rain catcher-maker. Unlike Santa Barbara, to the north, and Los Angeles, to the south, all our water is local. As Shana Epstein, manager at Ventura Water, told me, “They pray for snow in the Sierra Nevada. We pray for rain in the Los Padres.”

But how many people in Los Angeles actually pray for snow in the Sierra or Rockies?

And in this time of perceived crisis, we are deliberating about our water in Ventura. It’s transmogrifying from that category of cheap commodity to something more essential. Our priorities are reflecting the preciousness of this thing we call water, which really is our essence. And we are praying for rain.