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the truth behind venturawaterpure from the Carollo Report

From Crystal Clear to Money Pit: Unveiling the Truth Behind VenturaWaterPure

the truth behind VenturaWaterPure from the Carollo Report

The current Ventura City Council could reverse twelve years of poor financial decisions by Ventura Water based on faulty assumptions. Prior City Councils have been misled and pressured into believing VenturaWaterPure is the only solution to Ventura’s water problem. That is not true now, nor has it ever been confirmed. There are several solutions the city could pursue. Yet Ventura Water pushed the project with the zeal of religious fanatics to the point where VenturaWaterPure has become dogma at City Hall. Today, the City Council has more information to make a more informed evaluation of VenturaWaterPure. We urge them to use all the information before committing ratepayers to spend more than half a billion dollars.

How The Narrative Began Based On Faulty Assumptions

In 2012, a false narrative about water in Ventura began because of a Consent Decree the city agreed to with environmental groups. Wishtoya, Heal the Bay and other groups sued the city for discharging treated sewage into the Santa Clara River. The Consent Decree required the discharge to go somewhere else. So, city officials built a narrative like this, “Ventura must comply with the Consent Decree; therefore, we can use the treated discharge as another source of water for citizens at a reasonable cost.” The narrative sounded so compelling that one Councilmember said, “If the astronauts can drink it [recycled wastewater], then so can we.” And so, the project known as VenturaWaterPure began, and the narrative became dogma at City Hall. No one at City Hall questioned the false narrative, even though Ventura Water built it on two faulty assumptions that would later prove incorrect.

First Faulty Assumption: It’s Safe To Drink

The only fact in the false narrative is that Ventura must comply with the Consent Decree by 2025. The other parts about recycling wastewater into potable water at a reasonable cost are conjecture. New technological and financial information challenges the dogma. The current City Council should weigh the latest information to reevaluate VenturaWaterPure.

the truth behind VenturaWaterPure from the Carollo ReportVentura Water’s first faulty assumption was debunked in 2016 by an expert panel appointed by the State Legislature. The panel concluded that even after treatment the water was unsafe for human consumption because microscopic contaminants and chemicals pose a danger to humans.  The Ventura City Council didn’t learn of the 2016 report until March 2019.

A group of concerned citizens brought this information to the city officials, and the 2019 City Council took action to change VenturaWaterPure’s direction. VenturaWaterPure planned to use a process known as direct potable reuse, or DPR, to deliver water to residents. Yet, the City Council forced them to change plans. Ventura Water falsely assumed it could use the treated discharge as potable water.

When the council learned the news from the concerned citizens, they directed Ventura Water to change course on DPR and go to a process known as IPR, or indirect potable reuse, where the treated water is injected back into the aquifer before being extracted and delivered to customers.

How the Ventura Water general manager and its staff did not know about the 2016 expert panel’s report or why they did not tell the City Council that DPR was unsafe for three years remains a mystery. Yet, during those three years, Ventura Water extracted higher water rates from residents and continued to spend the money for VenturaWaterPure.

Second Faulty Assumption: The Project’s Costs Are Reasonable

It was apparent in 2019 that there were flaws in Ventura Water’s narrative about VenturaWaterPure. Yet, City Hall and Ventura Water continued to follow the dogma unquestioningly. That is until another flaw surfaced. The faulty assumption that Ventura Water could implement VenturaWaterPure at a reasonable cost began to unravel.

Ventura Water hired Carollo Consulting in 2019 to estimate costs for several options to handle the treated wastewater, including VenturaWaterPure. The Carollo report projected VenturaWaterPure’s costs to be $277 million (page 415, Table A-7). In January 2024, the City Council learned of the enormous, additional expense VenturaWaterPure will cost citizens. The cost is over $556 million; $279 million more than the Carollo estimate from five years ago—more than double. There are excuses for the cost overruns, of course. Ventura Water blames inflation and COVID-19 as reasons no one could have predicted. Yet, faced with these higher costs, Ventura Water offers no alternatives to contain costs or provide reliable alternatives. They are wrong not to do so. No one at Ventura Water dares to challenge the VenturaWaterPure dogma. Instead, they place the decision at the feet of the City Council to demand alternatives.

Time To Make A Change

the truth behind VenturaWaterPure from the Carollo ReportIt’s up to the 2024 City Council to meet their fiduciary duty to Ventura’s citizens. This council has more information about costs and technologies than any previous council. Now is the time to examine all reliable alternatives before continuing with VenturaWaterPure. Past actions by City Councils are no longer relevant to any decisions this City Council takes because technological circumstances and costs have changed to achieve VenturaWaterPure’s goals.

Ventura Water commissioned the Carollo Report four years ago to provide options to resolve the Consent Decree. The report identified the under-utilized Advanced Purification Facility in Oxnard as a potential solution to reduce duplication of processing plants and reduce costs. At the time, the Oxnard option was 60%-80% less expensive than building VenturaWaterPure.

City staff and Ventura Water rejected the recommendations outright because Ventura Water wanted to keep “control” of the water and did not trust partnerships with Oxnard or United Water.  So, Ventura Water convinced prior City Councils that control and trust were worth the extra $200 million it would cost to “go it alone.” We now know that Ventura Water’s projection has ballooned to $556 million.

Hold Ventura Water Accountable

Prior City Councils have periodically asked Ventura Water to revisit lower cost alternatives. According to Ventura Water Department General Manager Gina Dorrington, “The city staff met with United [Water] and Oxnard [Water] staff several times during the development of the EIR [Environment Impact Report] and again in 2020. We also met with the Oxnard staff in November 2023.”

the truth behind venturawaterpureMeeting with Ventura Water’s counterparts is an ambiguous term. What does it mean exactly? Were new quotes or figures discussed? Was there anything that would resemble a Request for Proposal (RFP)?

So, we asked the Wastewater Division Manager at the Oxnard Water plant. He said there were conversations in November, but they have yet to discuss figures or anything that someone would construe as an RFP.

Words like “met,” or “talked,” or “contacted them” are not formal negotiations or even a reasonable faith effort to negotiate. At the least, Ventura Water misrepresented the exchange in November. At worst, it appears that Ventura Water has no intention to change the dogma surrounding VenturaWaterPure because prior City Councils have given them an unlimited budget and blank check.

It’s time for Ventura Water to stop this behavior; only the City Council can make that happen. If Ventura Water is so confident in the cost analysis presented, why wouldn’t they agree to have a full-scale RFP update from Oxnard Water and United Water? Instead, Ventura Water continues to rely on faulty estimates from Ventura’s internal consultants. For the sake of all ratepayers for this ballooning multimillion-dollar project, why not get outside, independent estimates of the costs? Aren’t we owed that? The answer is yes.

Editors’ Notes

It’s time for the 2024 Ventura City Council to meet its fiduciary duty. It’s time to break the dogma surrounding VenturaWaterPure. The council must force Ventura Water to provide reliable alternatives to VenturaWaterPure. We now know the “cost to go it alone” exceeds the $200 million Ventura Water projected in 2019. Collaborating with other water agencies may be less costly, as the Carollo Report indicated. If Ventura partners with other agencies, demand documented costs for those alternatives. Please do not rely on the estimates and projections of Ventura Water or its consultants.

Tell The City Council To Do Their Fiduciary Duty

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Making VenturaWaterPure Better

What VenturaWaterPure Should Do To Be Better

Commentary on VenturaWaterPure

Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

—C.S. Lewis

Time to Improve VenturaWaterPure

Eight years ago, Ventura Water decided to pursue VenturaWaterPure single-mindedly. They are pursuing this course in the face of data that demonstrates it’s not in the best interest of citizens cost-wise or health-wise.

How Things Began To Go Wrong For VenturaWaterPure

Ventura Water based their decision on a faulty premise that Ventura needed additional water. The Wishtoyo Consent Decree opened the door for Ventura Water to select Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) as an integral part of VenturaWaterPure. Since 2012, nobody has tested the assumptions or sought lower-cost alternatives.

Ventura Water will do anything to pursue this goal, even when confronted with facts to the contrary. In June 2018, a group of concerned citizens went to each Councilmember to show them DPR was not approved and deemed not safe, yet. When the Council presented that fact to Ventura Water, they changed course slightly to Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), but they didn’t drop VenturaWaterPure or challenge their assumptions.

More recently, when Ventura Water presented to the Water Commission, they said State Water was unreliable and they can only count on water 33% of the time. Commissioners pointed out that historical data show State Water was reliable 50%-75% of the time. Ventura Water backtracked again and said they’d upgrade their data, but they never questioned their assumptions.

What These Decisions Cost You

A September 12, 2019 report titled Ventura Water Supply Projects and Alternatives, commissioned by Ventura Water (Appendix E starting on pg. 405), shows estimated project costs of another $320 Million plus the annual operating expenses of $29.Million for VenturaWaterPure. The added expense could saddle Ventura’s citizens with another $260 per month in water rates unless Ventura Water takes an alternative direction.

High cost of VenturaWaterPureSpreading $320 Million over ten years, divided equally among the 32,000 water ratepayers in Ventura, will cost about $83 more per month on your water bill. An extra 20-27 employees are required to operate the new facility, adding to the Ventura Water’s payroll, benefits and pensions. If Ventura Water adds the minimum number of new employees, using an average annual cost of $100,000 per person, plus benefits, will add $29.1 Million annually. Dividing $29.1 Million by 32,000 water ratepayers adds another $76 per month to each water bill.

Assume the average monthly water bill in Ventura is $100 per month ($200 every two months) when adding another $83 for building and $76 for operations and maintenance, the new average total is $260 per month. The amount could be even higher if Ventura Water hires more than 20 new employees.

Known as the Carollo Report, this September 12, 2019 report looks at the high price of the VenturaWaterPure project. It also attempts to provide alternatives that would be much more cost-effective and allow Ventura to meet its three primary water goals. Ventura Water has rejected all lesser cost alternatives.

Ventura’s goals remain: 1) remove tertiary treated wastewater from the Santa Clara Estuary, 2) increase the water supply and 3) improve the water quality in the east end of Ventura.

The Driving Force Behind VenturaWaterPure

VenturaWaterPure is a runaway trainVentura Water has already spent eight years to meet the demands of a Federal Consent Decree. Ventura must fully comply with the removal of remove tertiary treated wastewater from the Santa Clara Estuary by 2025. To achieve this mandate, VenturaWaterPure was set in motion to recycle its wastewater into something useful.

In 2012, there was no idea what the costs of VenturaWaterPure would be, from where the money would come or whether it was scientifically possible. The ideal outcome would be to make the recycled water drinkable and add to the dwindling water supply. The idea of ‘toilet to tap’ originated on the premise that ‘if the astronauts can drink it, we can too.’ That mantra assumes a great deal but is not that simple.

What Is Ventura Willing To Spend?

According to the Carollo Report, the current VenturaWaterPure carries a price tag of over $250 million and another $70 million to complete the project totaling $320 million. Do you spend another $320 million if Ventura Water can meet its three goals for less regardless of the money already spent?  And if you do, how will a family afford a 260% water rate increase?

Today’s Plan

The current VenturaWaterPure plan calls for the construction of an advanced water purification facility, new pipeline infrastructure and three injection wells. This current plan also requires the addition of 20 to 27 more positions, with salaries, benefits and pensions.  The Carollo Report indicates that much of the costs and liability that Ventura Water plans to take on as an independent project could be shared and reduced on a more regional basis.

So, What’s The Alternative?

It is not too late to reconsider some of the alternatives suggested in the Carollo Report. The redirection of the first part of the planned $270 million project does not mean the end of VenturaWaterPure. VenturaWaterPure can be completed at a savings of $270 million and meet all the city’s goals.

The alternative is for Ventura Water to construct a pipeline to the United Water settlement ponds near the intersection of 118 and Vineyard Avenue. The water can then percolate into the Oxnard plain basin. Ventura Water had always planned to inject the well water into the Oxnard plain basin under its current plan.

The United Water settlement alternative plan eliminates the need for Ventura Water to construct the advanced water purification facility, pipeline infrastructure and three injection wells. That is a savings of $320 Million. It would require the construction of nine miles of a 24-inch pipeline with a cost of about $50 million, so the net saving is still $270 Million.

 

Alternative Costs to VenturaWaterPure

 

There will need to be negotiations with United Water to complete the water transfer loop. Given the Groundwater Management act legislation (GMA), agencies transferring water to other agencies require cooperation in water exchanges. In that process, Ventura Water can obtain additional water allocations to add to the water supply.

Why Would There Be Any Objection?

The possible resistance to redirecting the tertiary treated Santa Clara Estuary wastewater to the United Water Saticoy Spreading Grounds is that Ventura Water may fear losing control of their water resource. This concern is unfounded, however. All water injected into any wells, may be drawn out by any water user with access to the Oxnard plain basin.

Improves The VenturaWaterPure Program

Saving Money on VenturaWaterPureSaving $270 million by redirecting the Santa Clara Estuary tertiary treated wastewater to the United Water Saticoy spreading grounds does not derail the other Ventura Water goals. With the continued construction of the State Water Project, State Water will provide an additional water resource to compliment the river, groundwater and recycling programs in place. The State Water will also improve the water quality for the east end of Ventura. Additionally, the tertiary treated wastewater to the United Water Saticoy spreading grounds would remain available to be drawn out of the Oxnard Basin just as it would be if injected into any wells currently planned.

Editor’s Comments

The challenge in 2012 was to comply with the Federal Court Decree, and the chosen solution was to convert the estuary into drinkable water. Ventura Water created VentruaWaterPure on the pretense that the cost of moving the water away from the estuary could be justified because we could then drink it. At the time, the costs not known and the scientific reports were incomplete. Fixated on controlling all water resources, and reject all alternatives, sounded good eight years ago. However, the original plan is too costly now, and the scientific studies still discourage drinking the treated wastewater.

Utilizing the regional resources to accomplish the same goals at a lower cost is better for Ventura. With this one primary change, VenturaWaterPure will succeed, and the citizens will save as much as $137 per month or $1,644 per year on their water bill.

Call or email your City Councilmember to tell them you want to save $270 Million and not have your water rates nearly triple.

Tell City Council you want to save $270 Million and not have your water rates nearly triple.

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Why You Should Worry About VenturaWaterPure

And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Examing Conferences Expense

For the second time in four years, Ventura Water failed to present scientific findings that challenged its decision on VenturaWaterPure. Either Ventura Water withheld this pertinent information from the Ventura Council, or it is unaware of the reality that Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) is unhealthy.

IPR presents a danger to humans. The September 2019 study from the University of Southern California (USC) concludes that IPR contaminates water with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Once infected with the bacteria, medical science cannot combat these antibiotic-resistant strains.

Reasons VenturaWaterPure Is Not Ideal

There are several reasons VentuaWaterPure is not an ideal solution. For whatever reason, Gina Dorrington, Ventura Water’s Assistant General Manager, neglected to tell the Council about these findings at the October 14th meeting.

It appears that the health of Ventura’s citizens is not a priority in these decisions. Furthermore, it begs the question, “What is the motivation for a misguided recommendation?”

VenturaWaterPure project will need an extra 20-27 employees, according to Susan Rungren, Ventura Water’s General Manager. Each employee will earn a pension. At a time when rising unfunded pension liabilities threaten the city’s finances, the prudence of adding 20%-27% more employees to Ventura Water is questionable.

VenturaWaterPure will cost $1 billion over 30 years. That’s a considerable sum of money for the community to absorb. Water bills will double to pay for VenturaWaterPure’s infrastructure alone. Operations and maintenance costs will add even more. Remember, water costs already went up by $220 million with water and wastewater increases in 2012-13.

To recommend anything contrary to moving forward on this project would not only jeopardize many jobs, but it would also imply that past City Councils and City Managers were wrong with previous decisions, and we have wasted millions of dollars in the process.

City Council Has Its Motivation To Approve Plan To Spend $1 Billion To Drink Wastewater

The City Council has been rushed by Ventura Water to comply with a Consent Decree Ventura agreed to in 2012. The 2012 Consent Decree with Wishtoyo Foundation contended that Ventura Water was dumping its waste into the Santa Clara River Estuary and harming the Santa Clara estuary. The decree requires Ventura to divert seven million gallons a day beginning in 2025 and concluding no later than 2030. What better way to justify a horrible decision than to convince people that it was for their good? They pointed to drought conditions and offered VenturaWaterPure as the solution.

When anyone is looking to justify a bad or ill-conceived idea, they look for another similar decision to defend their own. A case in point is finding other locations in California that have made bad decisions. Misery (bad choices) enjoys company. Two locations in California, Orange County and Monterrey, use Indirect Portable Reuse (IPR). The real question should be ‘Why only two?’ It took Monterrey 10 years to get a permit and build it. That alone is not a sound reason to pursue this premature direction to recycle wastewater in drinking water.

By misdirecting attention to drinking water—fundamental to life—it created the misperceived need for VenturaWaterPure. Complying with the Consent Decree is not the same as providing drinking water. Yet Ventura Water has been mingling the two needs since 2011. Separating the two issues helps make decisions more transparent.

Conflating Two Issues To Achieve The Desired Result

Ventura Water has confused the City Council by combining two different ideas to falsely heighten the urgency to drink wastewater. Since 2011, the campaign has been “We are short of water,” they say, “and the best way to meet that shortage is to drink wastewater.”

Ventura Water was quick to adopt DPR as the solution for an alternative water source.  Then-Ventura Water General Manager Shana Epstein had no data to support that assertion, except for the representations of the sales company designing the hardware for VenturaWaterPure.  Ms. Epstein repeatedly announced it was good water to drink. She and the other supporting that view were dead wrong.

Dispelling the Myth about Drinking Water

Ventura has enough drinking water for the next 15 years at current consumption rates, according to the 2019 Ventura Water Report (Table 4-3, p. 65). Unlike most cities in California, we are fortunate to be bounded by Ventura and Santa Clara rivers, Lake Casitas, plus groundwater basins.

To add more reserves, in 2018, the City Council approved a project to construct a pipeline to access a new water source—State Water. Besides providing more water to the city, we can mix State Water with our existing water to improve the taste of Eastside water. Ventura has had this option for the last 47 years.

Ventura Water’s public objection to State Water as a primary source has been that it is not available in dry years. They contend that State Water is thus “unreliable.” However, allocations of State Water over the past five drought years have averaged 55% of the contracted allowance. Ventura Water also conveniently ignores the fact that 75% of Ventura County relies on State water as a primary water resource.

Missing the Consent Decree Deadline

We may not be able to meet the timing of the Consent Decree if we pursue VenturaWaterPure. It took Monterrey ten years to apply for permits, be granted permission from the different agencies and build its IPR plant. Ventura has not applied for a single permit to begin constructing its plant. If it takes ten years from today to complete our plant, we will miss the Consent Decree deadline by five years. There’s no reason to believe Ventura will apply for permits and build its plant faster than ten years. VenturaWaterPure is destined to miss its target date.

A Waste of $1 Billion For VenturaWaterPure

IPR is inefficient and will not meet Ventura Water’s projections. Orange County and Monterrey use IPR already. IPR shows a net water loss of 23%, based on Orange County’s experience. If VentuaWaterPure treats 4.5 million gallons per day of tertiary water, this will yield approximately 3.5 million gallons per day of drinking water, or about 3,900 Acre-Feet per year (AFY). According to the Final Environmental Impact Study, that is 1,500 AFY short of the 5,400 AFY needed to meet Ventura’s estimated demand.

The fact is that Ventura reduced its wastewater by 17% from 2009-2018, despite increasing water connections by 3.5% (according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report). The amount of wastewater sent to VenturaWaterPure is decreasing. We can reduce the affluent further by using more tertiary water for irrigation in the city. Ventura could increase to 1,200 AFY for irrigation from the current level of approximately 500 AFY. The cost to ratepayers is only the cost of a pipeline for the delivery of tertiary water.

Ventura’s Imprudent Decisions

This City Council has shown a propensity to pay for the same outcome they could have gotten for less. We saw this when the city placed its high-use electricity accounts in the Clean Power Alliance. We may be witnessing it again with VenturaWaterPure.

The opportunity exists to adhere to the Consent Decree at half the cost to ratepayers compared to VenturaWaterPure. For the price of a pipeline, Oxnard will take Ventura’s treated tertiary water. They may even provide Ventura clean water credits. It’s unthinkable not to consider Oxnard Advanced Water Treatment Facility (AWTF) as an option.

Editors Comments

Every citizen should have serious doubts about the pragmatism of the City Council’s decision to fund VenturaWaterPure. It’s time to slow down. Some studies show that VenturaWaterPure is unsafe. Ventura Water for six years has continued to announce that it is safe for human consumption. Yet, the fact that there isn’t a consensus among scientists should be a warning flag to Councilmembers. Do they want to be remembered as supporting VenturaWaterPure if it’s shown to be unsafe, unregulated and unhealthy in the future? Let’s hope not.

One billion dollars is a large bet to place with the taxpayer and ratepayer money for a process that is questionable among scientists. There are cost-effective alternatives available, but it’s unlikely they’ve been examined since the initial decision to create VenturaWaterPure was made in 2011. Times change. Circumstances change. Now is the time to reconsider options to be sure we’re making the best choice available.

Reverse the decision to proceed with IPR, and certainly DPR, until there is more investigation on its safety. The Council is dealing with public health. The Council reversed its decision on DPR in 2018 when they learned a state expert panel deemed DPR unsafe. The Council should be prudent with IPR and change or pause that decision, too.

Finally, the City Council should more rigorously question Ventura Water on its proposals and actions. Twice, Ventura Water has failed to present scientific findings that challenged its direction with VenturaWaterPure. The Council would do well to keep in mind the adage, “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.”

Tell City Council, “Slow Down On VenturaWaterPure!”

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