Supervisor Bennett Forum: Connecting to State Water

By Sheryl Hamlin

About sixty attendees of Supervisor Bennett’s March 22, 2017 water forum quietly digested the complex material presented by the panel during the allotted two hour time period. Supervisor Bennett asked the audience by a show of hands how many had attended the previous water forum on desalination. Most raised their hands. Read that report here.

The five panelists included:

  • Shana Epstein, General Manager, Ventura Water
  • Susan Mulligan, General Manager, Calleguas Municipal Water District
  • Joshua Haggmark, Water Resources Manager, City of Santa Barbara
  • Mauricio Guardado, Jr. General Manager, United Water Conservation District
  • Steve Wickstrum, General Manager, Casitas Municipal Water District


What is the State Water Project (SWP)?

A color coded map of the project can be downloaded here and it is important to visualize its length and breadth.

Like everything about California, the colorful history of the SWP begins in the 19th century. From a study under President Ulysses S. Grant, to another study under President Woodrow Wilson, to the Central Valley Act of 1933 passed under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to its initial construction in 1935, the Central Valley project was a precursor to a grand plan started in 1945 by DWR (Department of Water Resources) which ultimately became the State Water Project in 1960. According to the history, all but one northern county opposed the project, while it was supported in the southern counties. Governor Edmund Brown, Sr. attended the Oroville groundbreaking ceremony.

Reliability of SWP delivery and Projects for the Future

Susan Mulligan led this segment of the forum. She presented a Google Earth flyover of the project today, showing the massive Feather River Watershed and Lake Oroville, where the project starts, leading down the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin Delta estuary, where water is pumped in the California Aqueduct. The water travels 300 miles to two storage facilities at Pyramid Lake and Castaic Lake, which is the terminus of the West Branch of the SWP. Metropolitan Water District pipes the water south from there to a treatment plant in Chatsworth, which is the handoff to Calleguas, who then pipes the water across Ventura County via a tunnel through the Santa Susana Pass.

The Calleguas Pipe System in Red

Ms. Mulligan presented a chart showing historical allocations from 1968 to the present. From 1968 to the 1980’s, the contractors received 100% of their deliveries, while in 1990 with the advent of environmental regulations and droughts, the average is 45% of the total. She said that according to DWR, with the California Water Fix, the percentage will move to 69% and without The Fix, the reliability will stay around 43% to 51%. She said that The Fix would help the fish by submerging the tunnels 150’ deep and stabilize the delivery in case of earthquake.

Fish Confusion

Although not discussed, two contrary opinions about The Fix are here: 1) Fishsniffer and 2) Restore the Delta. The draft of the study is here.

Steve Wickstrum explained that there were originally 29 contractors in 1964 who agreed to assume the costs of the SWP. Water was allocated proportionally to your contribution to the total. He said that Ventura County Watershed Protection District signed up as one of the original 29 contractors in 1964 and in the 1970’s Casitas took on the management and costs of the SWP and divided the 20,000 afy (acre feet per year) allotment between the City of Ventura, United Water Conservation District and Casitas. However, that pipe was never built and Casitas relied on the Ventura River Project for water.

Supervisor Bennett polled the panel about their respective board’s position on The Fix. Calleguas and UWCD said yes, while Ventura, Santa Barbara and Casitas had reservations, of cost, although Mr. Wickstrum said that CAFIX looks good from an engineering standpoint. Metropoilitan Water District has built a web site for The Fix with pictures and presentations. This video shows advantages and disadvantages.

What are the Technical Challenges?

Susan Mulligan led this segment explaining the study which is underway. Three options for connectivity include: Price Road (7 miles, shortest route with a 24” pipe, 25% delivery), Somis Road (12 miles from ventura, 100% delivery), and Springville Road (8 miles from Ventura with 100% delivery). Springville appears to be the preferred location at this point in time due to the ability to use gravity to minimize pumping to Ventura. There were no charts on the route or the costs.

Shana Epstein reminded the audience that nothing is final until the CEQA study is complete. The consultant came up with the Springville idea, she said. There is also a water quality element in the study. CalTRANS permitting issues affect the route. The larger the pipe means water will collect in the pipes and grow bacteria. Another issue is crossing the Santa Clara River. The preferred river solution at this point is a subterranean tunnel. They also discussed bringing water from the San Buena Ventura system to Lake Casitas with its east to west challenges.

What are the Environmental Challenges?

Mauricio Guardado of United Water Conservation District (UWCD) said the local issues (money and pipes) were relatively minor compared to the federal environmental issues, such as those affecting the Bay Delta and the Freeman Diversion Dam. NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Services) has reduced the diversion due to the salmon issue, so they are losing most of the rainwater. UWCD has hired its own team to find a solution to this, but the “huge regulatory wall” is a hurdle.

Shana Epstein described Ventura’s Potable Reuse project and their efforts to protect the fish by managing flows to the estuary. She reminded the audience that Casitas, Ventura and UWCD are paying and have been paying for the SWP without receiving any water. She also compared GHG issues between desalination and the SWP, saying the latter had a smaller carbon footprint.

How does the SWP Connection Affect Redundancy

Susan Mulligan said the 75% of the Calleguas’ supply of water is imported, so there is not enough diversification. Lake Bard and Las Posas provide only one month supply in the event of an emergency. Steve Wickstrum said that “in lieu” agreement, where one agency trades water, is the most cost effective because no capital investment is required. Mauricio Guardado said that ground water supplies and basins that replenish rapidly are essential to supply. Shana Epstein reminded the audience of Ventura’s “water neutrality” project saying that have a 20% buffer based on 2015 use and expect potable reuse to provide 4000 afy, noting that Orange County has used potable reuse for decades.

Santa Barbara and State Water Project?

Joshua Haggmark explained a unique situation where during the 1990’s drought the county voted for BOTH a desalination plant and a connection to the SWP. They also buy water from rice farmers. The history of SWP in Santa Barbara is documented here. Santa Barbara plans testing of their new desalination plant which will give them options.

Costs and More Costs

The last two segments deal with costs. Shana Epstein said the $14 million is not enough to get State Water, because they must “operationalize” for bond coverage. Maurizio Guardado said the $993/afy does not include capital costs for CAFIX. Susan reminded the audience that there are fixed water costs whether you take the water nor not. Susan Mulligan said that the issue is how to divide up the costs within the county.

Supervisor Bennett said that citizens should “be prepared for higher water rates”.

The question of passing on costs to consumers included parcel taxes or monthly fees. No one in county will be unaffected, said Shana Epstein. She also said that rates can be raised PRIOR to construction in order to show bond investors that there is a revenue stream.

And now another Governor Brown is leading The Fix.


To view the entire two hour presentation, click here,

For more information about author, click here.

For more information about author, click sheryl hamlin dot com

Get Headlines free  SUBSCRIPTION. Keep us publishing – DONATE



4 Responses to Supervisor Bennett Forum: Connecting to State Water

  1. JV March 25, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Wiliam – what kind of lifestyle will we have when all discretionary income is spent on water and debt (the debt is in perpetuity)?
    More conservation is possible.
    Also, as Ms. Hamlin points out, growth is flat. Demand is not growing. Think sustainability; water, growth and financial.

  2. Sheryl Hamlin March 24, 2017 at 7:34 am

    Solvang experience … high costs …

  3. Sheryl Hamlin March 24, 2017 at 7:21 am

    With Ventura county’s population growth stagnant and infrastructure costs to soar, the per capita costs will also escalate.

  4. William Hicks March 24, 2017 at 4:25 am

    The main question on my mind is what kind of lifestyle will we have if nothing is done. With the current D.C. Administration, I’m sure that some, if not all, “environmental” issues can be overcome. Then it’s a challenge to deal with the current State Administration.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *