Harvesting the Rain in Ventura County – Part Two

By Tim Pompey

Ventura County Water Agencies Discuss Stormwater Capture

West County

Most of the western county’s water supply comes from the watershed of the Ventura river and is stored in Lake Casitas. Casitas, like other local reservoirs, has suffered greatly from the drought.

In the City of Ventura, Tully Clifford, the Public Works Director for the City of Ventura, and the city are currently working on a master drainage plan. This, in Clifford’s view, is addressing the question: “What other purposes can the water that drains into the harbor or ocean serve?”

Clifford believes that Ventura is doing a good job of reusing their local water sources, including stormwater running down the Harmon Barranca (which drains to the Santa Clara River) and the Arrundel Barranca (which drains into Ventura Harbor).

Green Street Project Hartman Drive Ventura

But he also acknowledges that more can be done. “We’re looking at how we’re going to get it back into the ground and how much is needed for environmental purposes.”

Two major problems for Ventura include poor soil and lack of water resources. “We don’t have natural water coming in (i.e., rain or rivers) to recharge our groundwater system,” he noted. “This means we need to figure out how to make the water we have sustainable.”

One major change in the works is to stop pumping water from the treatment plant on Spinnaker Drive back into the Santa Clara River Estuary (estimated daily discharge: eight million gallons a day).

To deal with these challenges, Ventura Water is planning to build an advanced water treatment plant somewhere along the Olivas Adobe Parkway. With advanced water treatment, the water that normally is discharged into the Santa Clara River Estuary and eventually the ocean can be reused for other purposes. “We can take that water and send it through the advanced treatment plant to make it potable,” said Joe McDermott, Assistant General Manager for Ventura Water.

The completion date for that plan is estimated around 2023.

Central County

Most of central county’s water resources are managed by United Water Conservation District (UWCD). Mauricio Guardado, General Manager for UWCD, stated that “we are the greatest flood control capturing organization in southern California.”

It begins with stormwater runoff from multiple tributaries that end up being stored in Lake Piru. “We capture stormwater runoff from December to April,” said Murray McEachron, Senior Hydrologist for the UWCD. “We also operate Santa Felicia Dam. Much of the water, if not for the dam, would simply run out to the ocean. The dam allows us to hold it there until we release that water so that it can be beneficially used downstream.”

UWCD Area of Responsibility

The water from Lake Piru is percolated into Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula’s groundwater basins.

About 50% of that water release from Lake Piru is diverted at the “Freeman Diversion” ponds for groundwater recharge in the Oxnard Forebay. The Oxnard Forebay is an area of the northern Oxnard Plain roughly spanning from El Rio to Saticoy where thick clays are absent and water can percolate deep into the ground to replenish the aquifers of the Oxnard Plain.

Water diverted from the river is routed to recharge basins and this “artificial recharge” is the main source of water for the aquifers of the Oxnard Plain.

UWCD’s primary goal is to capture stormwater. “After it rains, we’re doing everything possible to capture that water,” McEachron stated. “After the storm, we’ll divert up to 740 acre feet per day for groundwater recharge.”

There is a difference between Lake Casitas and Lake Piru in terms of water usage. As Guardado explained: “Casitas and Cachuma are retail water purveyors. They provide reservoir water or well water to metered customers. United is different. We capture precipitation and runoff to store and recharge water in the basins for everybody’s beneficial use.”

UWCD’s goal is to partner with other agencies and cities to increase water conservation as part of their overall management strategy. They’re also hoping to expand their facilities.

“We’re looking into developing additional water storage facilities,” said Guardado. “We’re working with the City of Oxnard to develop a use for the mining pits at Riverpark. We’re also partnering with Oxnard for a project to use recycled water. In the county, we’re open to whatever makes sense. The more stormwater we can capture, the more it enhances the viability of the county.”

“We’re not satisfied with the status quo and operations,” said McEachron. “We’ve got a talented staff analyzing and looking at alternative water resource options. The county is growing and demand has increased, so we have to be in front of those demands.”

Eastern County

In the City of Simi Valley, they have a different problem. Though they have an abundance of groundwater, it is very high in total dissolved solids and must be extensively treated to meet EPA drinking water requirements.

In Simi Valley, groundwater supplements imported water, but comprises less than 10% of supplies for Golden State Water Company, and less than 1% of supplies for the City of Simi Valley/Waterworks District No. 8.

There is currently a plan to extend a salinity management pipeline (SMP) operated by Calleguas out to Simi Valley so that their groundwater can be treated to remove solids such as naturally occurring salts and transport them via the SMP to the Pacific Ocean for discharge. The SMP currently extends from Port Hueneme to Somis. The hope is that it can reach Simi Valley in five to six years.

For now, Simi Valley must work within its own infrastructure to capture stormwater. For example, requiring detention basins as part of new construction in the city.

Simi Valley Storm Treatment Device

According to Kay Allen, Environmental Compliance Program Coordinator for Public Works in the City of Simi Valley, the cities and counties will be working together in developing regional projects. “This will probably be done by watershed groups,” said Allen, “For example, Simi Valley would work with the Calleguas Creek Watershed group.”

“We have a dual interest in capturing stormwater both to prevent the pollution and to use it as a potable water supply,” said Wanda Moyer, another Environmental Compliance Program Coordinator for Public Works in the City of Simi Valley. “Once we’re able to pump more of our groundwater and treat it, supplies will be more reliable and affordable in the long run.”

In the meantime, the city has taken advantage of available funding through Proposition 84, The Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006.

Proposition 84, like Proposition 1, is another source of bond money to fund safe drinking water, water quality and supply, flood control, waterway and natural resource protection, water pollution and contamination control, state and local park improvements, public access to natural resources, and water conservation efforts.

In addition, Moyer reported that the City of Simi Valley has installed weather-based irrigation controllers in nearly all city maintained landscape areas and high efficiency sprinkler nozzles in all remaining turf locations.

“For example, we’ve retrofitted our landscape in our Civic Center to reduce turf by two-thirds. We’ve replaced it with colorful California-friendly watershed-wise plants, drip irrigation, and mulch,” she explained. “There was no permit that mandated us to do this, but it makes sense financially for us to use water more efficiently. We’re saving 1.7 million gallons of water annually and saving money on water bills.”

City of Simi Valley Civic Center

Susan Mulligan, General Manager for the Calleguas Water District, explained how water is distributed to the eastern end of the County, especially Thousand Oaks.

Calleguas State Water Map

“The State Water Project originates at Lake Oroville, which captures water up in the Feather River Watershed in northeast California,” she said. “The water flows from Lake Oroville into the Feather River, the Sacramento River, and through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At the south end of the Delta, water is pumped into the California Aqueduct to Castaic Lake. From there it is delivered to the Metropolitan Water District, treated at a filtration plant in Granada Hills, and delivered throughout Southern California, including most of Ventura County south of the Santa Clara River.”

Mulligan notes that the new trend in water treatment is to capture smaller scale stormwater. But nature’s reality puts a limit on what can be done with technology. “You can’t capture it all,” she said. “There are a lot of barriers.” These include:

  • In our county, most of the aquifers are covered by a clay cap. The recharge areas are limited because of our impermeable soil. Even the permeable soil is not permeable enough.
  • L.A. did a study of a stormwater capture plan and found that it’s very expensive, more expensive than customers want to pay. That’s why very little of this has been implemented.
  • Until rules are established for storage and recovery of stormwater from aquifers, there is no incentive for a water supplier to invest in stormwater capture. Water suppliers want to invest in projects that provide them with a known quantity of additional supply.
  • Cities are required by the EPA to treat stormwater runoff to meet a certain water quality standard. As it runs across many streets, it picks up contaminants. The way cities can help resolve this problem is by building stormwater detention and percolation basins. But, as Mulligan noted, “Thousand Oaks could build these basins and it would not do any good because the ground is impermeable.”

Mulligan cites some projects that are being proposed to help with stormwater capture.

“A salinity management pipeline could facilitate groundwater desalters to reduce the salinity level and allow that water to be used,” she said. “That will drop groundwater levels in areas like Moorpark and Simi Valley so that more stormwater could be captured. It’s been built across the Oxnard plain and it’s up to Somis. In a few years, our hope is to connect it to Simi Valley.”

She also notes how the state is developing plans for tunnels that would run underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and allow more water from the Feather River watershed to be conserved.

“A lot of water from the watershed has been lost this year,” she stated. “A great deal has been lost to the ocean. More stormwater could be captured as part of the California Water Fix. On average about 4% of the inflow to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is delivered to Southern California. Right now, because pumps must routinely be turned off to protect native fish populations, agencies receiving water from the State Water Project are only receiving about 45% of what they were allocated when the project was built. The tunnels would collect water from a location that is not damaging to the native fish, so water agencies could receive up to 60 or 70% of their allocations.”

Harvesting the Rain in Ventura County – Part One

Part Three — Some innovative solutions


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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William Hicks

Can the treatment water be used to recharge the groundwater aquifers?