Ventura could lose one-third of its water supply because of legal maneuvering and backdoor negotiating. As it is, Venturans pay too much for water and could pay even more in three years.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES WATER RIGHTS CONTRACT
[RESULTS OF NEW AGREEMENT]
On May 8, 2017, the public learned that a new contract between the City of Ventura and the Casitas Municipal Water District has been approved and executed by the City Council. That new contract places Ventura in jeopardy of losing all rights to water from Lake Casitas.
To maintain its current water rights, Ventura must reach Water Balance by 2020. To achieve water balance, Ventura must find an additional source of water.
The expedient solution is to exercise Ventura’s option to use State Water. The city currently pays $1.2 million per year for that option (which the city never used) and has been paying for that option since the mid-70s. If Ventura does not tap into the State Water Pipeline within three years, Ventura’s water situation will be in dire straits.
NEW CONTRACT IS TOO VAGUE
The old 1995 Contract with Casitas Water allowed for a minimum of 6,000-acre feet of water per year. That water could be used in the western part of Ventura (everything west of Mills Road) and the eastern part of the city, if necessary. Under the new agreement, that changed.
The new contract does not specify the amount of water Ventura’s entitled to receive. Instead, the “projected water demand of the prior year” will determine the amount (Article 4.1). That projected demand will come from Ventura’s annual water report. Should Casitas dispute the amount of water, it opens the Ventura up to a possible “Dispute Resolution.”
What determines the projected water demand of the prior year? Who determines that amount? Do both Ventura Water and Casitas Water have to agree on the volume before the start of each year? There are too many unanswered questions for this agreement to be tenable, and the fact that the Ventura Water Commission recently “received” but did not approve the 2017 report is not encouraging.
NO SCIENCE IN THE COMPREHENSIVE WATER REPORT
The Ventura Water Department provided inaccurate and incomplete information in the Comprehensive Water Resources Report dated April 7, 2017. That data formed the basis of the Contract with Casitas Water District.
The financial statements used are suspect because of misleading expenditures. Other assumptions such as using the average water demand are questionable, too. The report includes no real science-based estimates of current water availability or capacity. And there are no timelines for water delivery improvements.
This same report also lists the use of sewer recycled water as a reliable source for potable water in the city. Ventura Water’s General Manager authored that report. She subsequently quit her job and moved to the City of Angels after submitting the report.
THE NEW AGREEMENT PUTS EAST VENTURA AT A DISADVANTAGE
The 1995 Contract allowed Ventura to blend Casitas water with the East End water. Water from the lake was used to mix with water from eastern wells to achieve better quality. Casitas considered the use of their water for that purpose as “rental water.” Ventura was required to return it or to pay for it. The new contract does not allow Ventura to use water in the East End.
Ventura may only use Casitas water within the Casitas District (western part of the City). If Ventura uses Casitas water outside the Casitas District in any one year, then Ventura must reduce the amount of water it uses in the western part of the city until it achieves “water balance.”
If Ventura fails to reach Water Balance within a 12-month period, Casitas may terminate the Water Services Agreement. Overnight, Ventura would lose approximately one-third of the water needed to run the city. Those living on the East side will suffer the most from the loss.
WATER PRICES NEEDLESSLY OVERPRICED
Based upon a very reliable source, who worked in the water community for the last four decades, management decisions by Ventura Water and City Hall over the past 25 years have led to monetary, clerical and water rights losses in the Ventura River. These bad choices forced consumers to pay higher fees even under drought conditions than they should have incurred.
THE CITY COUNCIL SNUBBED THE WATER COMMISSION
While we know the Ventura Water Commission does not have any rights or authority regarding contracts, their experience and knowledge could have been invaluable. But, the City of Ventura Water Commission never had the opportunity to review or discuss the Casitas Water Agreement. The City of Ventura never presented this contract to the commission and didn’t ask for their counsel.
Neutering the Water Commission is a recurring behavior for Ventura Water. The staff’s unwillingness to allow the Commission to do its job has existed for years. It appears they would prefer the Commission to rubber-stamp every decision. They are perturbed when the commission doesn’t do what they want. Given the poor decisions Ventura Water has made during the previous general manager’s tenure, it’s little wonder commissioners might be critical of every issue brought to them.
THE THREAT OF A LAWSUIT EXCLUDED THE WATER COMMISSION
Casitas Municipal Water District intended to sue Ventura’s water department and notified them of their intention according to the City Attorney. At that point, the attorneys determined that they would treat the new agreement as a pre-legal settlement, thereby closing negotiations to outside parties and masking all records or documents from public scrutiny.
As part of the new contract, Casitas forgave an estimated $2 million debt (based upon 4000+ acre feet of water) Ventura Water owes for “rental water.” The Parties agree that as of the commencement of the Agreement, the City is in “water balance.” The City and Casitas are not subject any further legal or financial obligations under the 1995 agreement.
The success of this contract depends on whether Ventura can achieve water balance by 2020 by finding an alternative source of potable water. If that does not happen, Ventura faces the prospect of the termination of water from Casitas Water District.
If Ventura doesn’t find an alternative potable water source within three years and Casitas terminates this agreement, in effect Ventura will have sold its rights to Casitas Water for $2 million.
Ventura can only hope that the new Water Department management will provide full disclosure and transparency, and will lend its voice to the importation of 10,000-acre feet of water from the State Water Project. Forty-eight percent of the voters chose that option in the 1992 election.
Now, will the government listen?