Harvesting the Rain in Ventura County – Part One

By Tim Pompey

Ventura County Water Agencies Discuss Stormwater Capture

The Question

Tell me if you’ve ever wondered about this question:

Now that the rains have returned, why don’t we work harder to capture some of this water that we see rushing down rivers and creeks and out to the ocean?

It’s a good question and one that Citizens Journal has been studying for the past several months. After all, we’ve seen the rains return this winter. That’s the good news.

We’ve also seen mud slides, floods, and storm runoffs that catch everything in its path and hurl it across our communities. As a result, we’ve heard warnings about increased bacteria levels on our beaches and in the oceans where we swim. We’ve seen neighborhoods overrun. We’ve seen huge street potholes appear out of nowhere, all the result of millions of gallons of rain runoff. Wouldn’t it be safer and more beneficial to use this water efficiently? To catch it when it comes and save it for later when it doesn’t?

The simple/complex answer to our question is this. Stormwater capture depends on where in the county you live. If you’re in Ojai, the answer is different than if you live in Simi Valley. If you’re in Oxnard, the answer is different than if you live in Thousand Oaks. Consequently, there’s no one size fits all solution. It depends on geographic and urban variables, including the considerable costs involved to update stormwater infrastructures.

Stormwater as a Resource

The need to clean up stormwater has been part of the EPA’s Clean Water Act, especially since it was updated and expanded in 1972. In that expansion, the agency required cities and water agencies to implement a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

“Under the NPDES permit, requirements are placed on the cities and county to eliminate polluted runoff from entering the creeks, streams, and arroyos,” said Kay Allen, Environmental Compliance Program Coordinator for the Department of Public works in the City of Simi Valley.

Stormwater used to be viewed primarily as a flood hazard. But there’s been a noticeable change in attitude throughout the state. Five years of drought in California have made many individuals and public agencies rethink what it means to conserve stormwater and replenish our natural resources.

“There has been a shift with the drought,” said Lara Meeker, a Water Resources Specialist at the County of Ventura and the Santa Clara River Watershed Coordinator. “Stormwater is a resource. It shouldn’t be discharged to the ocean if we can actually use it.”

County Challenges

All of this is a welcomed change in thinking. However, as we look at Ventura County, we see multiple issues that must be dealt with:  ten cities, two reservoirs, two main rivers, three large watersheds, limited areas where groundwater aquifers can be effectively recharged, contrasting geography, and a reliance on multiple water agencies. These are just some of the variables that present difficulties for capturing and managing local stormwater runoff.

As such, it’s probably easier to get the big picture by giving you the smaller pieces. We don’t promise a complete evaluation of stormwater capture, but by reading this, you can get a feel for what’s happening throughout the county. Whole research papers have been written on this topic, but most of them are too technical for the average reader. What we hope to give you is a layman’s version which will encourage our readers to do more study on their own.

Water Resources in Ventura County

One of the biggest challenges in this county is simply understanding the technical nature of water management: where water comes from, how it’s delivered, and what infrastructure is required to capture, filter, and replenish aquifers with local stormwater. It’s a science, and as is true with most science, it requires study, thought, and creativity. To begin with, here is a brief overview of our county’s water resources.

In the western county, specifically the west end of Ventura and the city of Ojai, the water supply comes primarily from Lake Casitas.

For the north central county, including Fillmore, Santa Paula, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Camarillo, and Moorpark, the water supply is provided by United Water Conservation District via Lake Piru and local groundwater.

For the south central and eastern county, Calleguas Municipal Water District imports and distributes water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a regional wholesaler and the largest supplier of treated water in the U.S.

Calleguas does not deliver water directly to consumers, but wholesales it to retail purveyors in Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Camarillo, Simi Valley and Moorpark.

Thousand Oaks is wholly dependent on imported Calleguas supplies from the State Water Project.

County Soil Permeability

In addition, Ventura County has a soil problem. Most of the county is covered with clay.

According to Susan Mulligan, General Manager for the Calleguas Municipal Water District, this makes water filtration and aquifer recharge in the clay soil areas nearly impossible. “In our county, most of the aquifers are covered by a clay cap,” Mulligan explained. “Our recharge areas are limited because of this impermeable soil. Even the permeable soil is not permeable enough.”

Ventura County Watershed Protection

For Meeker, it is important to have the county involved in stormwater capture. The county and cities are responsible under their NPDES permit for runoff from urbanized areas ultimately draining into local creeks, river, and beaches.

“The cities and counties together have recently completed a Municipal Stormwater Resources Plan,” said Meeker. “As part of this plan, they have identified publicly owned parcels with potential for stormwater capture and treatment. This plan is collaborative and regional. The Stormwater Resources Planning Act, SB 985 requires that all stormwater capture projects must be included in a stormwater resource plan to be eligible for grant funding from Bond acts approved after January 1, 2014. Every agency who wants Proposition 1 money (The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014) is preparing for this.”

The New Coop

Meeker believes that cities, the county, and water agencies recognize the need to collaborate. While some are looking for ways to prevent polluted stormwater runoff from impacting a stream or river, others are interested in increasing local water supplies. “If you capture that urban runoff,” she explained, “you’ve helped the quality of the river and you now have stormwater that you can either reuse or collect to recharge groundwater basins.”

The state has also been involved in urging cities to work together to solve their groundwater issues. This can be seen quite recently in the establishment of what is known as The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

According to Tully Clifford, the Public Works Director for the City of Ventura, for each groundwater basin identified by the California Department of Water Resources, a new SGMA agency must be formed by June 2017.

To give you a sense of the importance of the SGMA in Ventura County, 127 agencies have been identified statewide. Twelve of them are located right here in Ventura County.

Ventura County and its cities have also been working on what is known as a “Municipal Stormwater Resource Plan,” a cooperative effort among all ten cities and the incorporated land under county jurisdiction. The cities and county are working together to develop a plan that identifies opportunities for stormwater capture and multibenefit projects throughout the county.

In addition, Meeker points to some important stormwater capture projects that have been completed or are on the horizon.

One is the El Rio Retrofit for Groundwater Recharge project, which is installing permeable pavement in the El Rio area.

The other is a stormwater capture project in Piru that the County received grant funding for last February.

This project will capture stormwater runoff from 123 acres around Piru, remove sediment and contaminants, and increase by almost 39 acre feet the spreading grounds for the recharge of Piru’s groundwater basin.

Part Two — West County, East County, Central County


Tim Pompey, a freelance writer who has done lots of local affairs and entertainment/cultural writing, lives in Oxnard. Tim is also a fiction writer (Facebook Page). You can learn about his books on Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/booksbytimpompey.

Mr. Pompey’s Newest Book:  

deep.downDeep Down  is another roller coaster collection of short stories by author Tim Pompey. A mortician with ghost problems. A humanoid stranded in outer space. A B-17 bomber pilot haunted by voices from his past. These and other stories dig beneath reality and crawl through hidden tunnels to a world that exists without and within us. From childhood to old age, these stories are locked inside the mind, waiting to be discovered.

Go deep. Very deep. Find out what lies buried within your own imagination.

Deep Down On Amazon


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Steven Nash

In summary, if you want new sources of water then you are going to have to pay dearly for it. Ag will fight a replenishment surcharge for the groundwater basins tooth and nail. Small government proponents will fight regional efforts to consolidate water distribution and collection systems as being anathema to free market dictates. But without additional sources of water we are at our limits of growth. I lean on the side of making new development pay for and provide their project’s water demand. Why should I pay for a billion dollar bond issue that benefits large land owners and their developer partners? No thank you!

Brian Kearsey

Well done; looking forward to the rest of the series!

Citizen Reporter

several are now published

anonymous teacher

Depending on the depth of your water table and aquifers, you can make the ground above more permeable by digging to different depths and introducing/amending the soil. But, the EPA and our state’s restrictive laws on soil amending make it difficult to implement aquifer improvements/replenishment.