Ventura’s water mess

EditorialBy Joe Richardson, Daniel Cormode & Paul D. White


The 2016 city of Ventura’s “Drinking Water Consumer Confidence Report” is not titled “Half-truths and Outright Misrepresentations,” but it should be.

Without major, immediate changes, Ventura’s water shortages will be at a scary level within five years. It will force all growth to stop, and current residents won’t have adequate water to live normal lives.


The report identifies Ventura as the county’s largest city relying 100 percent on local water resources. It fails to add that this is due to the City Council’s and the water department’s poor planning for many years.

The report doesn’t mention that Ventura taxpayers have not received one drop of water for the millions of dollars spent for four decades to maintain Ventura’s right to a water allotment from the State Water Project. The City Council has refused to install a simple, 6-mile pipeline that would connect Ventura to this reliable source of top-quality water.

Also unmentioned in the report is why a desalination plant, voter-approved in a 1992 referendum and able to supply 50 percent of Ventura’s water, has never been built. If the council decided to build the plant today, it would take up to 13 years before it could be operational, due to the lengthy application process.

“Ventura’s drinking water meets all (safety) standards,” the report states — except when it doesn’t, like during the six months in 2015, when tap water in several neighborhoods was deemed hazardous by the state.

The water department claims to be “always producing … high-quality drinking water.” The amount of dissolved minerals and organic matter in Ventura water ranges up to 140 percent above recommended state levels and 300 percent higher than State Water Project water.

The report states the water department’s commitment “to investing in the improvement of its infrastructure.” That’s not believable when you consider what it has not done for the past three decades.

About that long ago, the city hired an engineering firm to write a report about Ventura’s water situation and what needed to be done to prepare for the future. The report detailed the city’s need to connect to state water, build a desalination plant and build another treatment plant for brackish water. Funds were set aside. None of the report’s recommendations were followed, and the funds disappeared.

Around 2000, a new water department report surfaced. It ignored the recommendations of the previous report, but the council adopted it anyway. Since then, Ventura has lurched from one self-created water crisis to another.

A few years ago, to meet the needs of its west side, the city committed to a high-volume/long-term water purchase from Lake Casitas. This proved to be much more water than was needed. The water department decided to pump excess water to the east side, and thus “bank” its normal allotment from east-side wells. Due to poor administrative oversight, the banked water credit was lost.

The 2016 water report confidently states Ventura receives 25 percent of its water from Lake Casitas. It fails to mention that next year, that delivery may be reduced by 45 percent, and four years from now, Casitas could be dry.

The report claims Ventura has “always invested in its water sources and systems.” The fact is the water department has never claimed all of its Ventura River water rights, nor built the structures necessary to catch and store its flow. As a result, the city accesses only a fraction of the available water.

Continued poor planning has led to the water department having to over-pump its allotment for east-side wells, thus paying a higher rate for water and passing it on to residents. Water quality has greatly decreased.

The department’s poor handling of Ventura’s water has created an avoidable “perfect storm.” The loss of Lake Casitas water will force it to adapt cross-town pipelines and start pumping east-side water to the west side to meet demand. Continued implementation of the horribly timed housing boom on the east side will further exacerbate water shortages and leave residents with high-priced/low-quality water and not enough of it.

Meanwhile, the city is frantically trying to dig replacement wells rather than moving ahead with new ones, and consumers’ water bills will go even higher to offset that cost.

Finally, instead of state or desalinated water, the city is investing in creating more toilet-to-tap reclaimed sewage water for Venturans to drink.

What does the water department have to say about this most serious problem? It has refused to respond to over 50 public information requests and seldom answers its phone.

Ventura is teetering on the brink regarding its water future. Residents need to demand new, qualified leadership in all areas immediately.


Note: Dan Cormode has written several other articles published in

Joe Richardson has been a water professional since 1985. Daniel Cormode has dedicated his life to researching Ventura water issues. Paul D. White is a founding member of, a grassroots organization dedicated to improving Ventura’s quality of life. Comments are welcome at [email protected].

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6 Responses to Ventura’s water mess

  1. steven quat July 30, 2018 at 2:27 am

    build the damn pipeline already.

  2. lance montee January 30, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    This should be on the front page of the Star until we get things done. Without water there will be no need to worry about anything else.

  3. Paul White January 29, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Steven –
    Great info and ideas. Please contact and work with us on pushing this issue. We have a strong group and you’d make it even stronger.

  4. Steven Nash January 29, 2017 at 11:12 am

    We need a regional water authority in Ventura County. I am tired of hearing excuses why it can’t be done. The current triad of CMWD, UWD and FCGMA are incapable of addressing the need for a robust water supply and delivery system that doesn’t diminish the survivability of endangered species or destroy the groundwater basins by over-pumping.

    If we include Casitas Municipal Water District, then a system could be implemented to capture, store repurpose and redirect much of the water that we are now losing, whether it is storm runoff, wastewater effluent or degraded ground and surface water. This isn’t rocket science, the water lords just have to agree to work together for the benefit of the residents, businesses and environmental concerns of Ventura County.

    A major impediment to a regional authority is agriculture. It is becoming more and more apparent that agriculture cannot be counted on to be willing partners in finding solutions. In fact, go and watch Agenda Item 11, “Discussion of Staffing of the Agency (FCGMA)”, from the 1-25-17 meeting to understand that ag, their lawyers and Board members (Directors West and Borchard) are now engaged in removing any obstacles, ie. FCGMA Executive Officer Jeff Pratt and his staff, to their continued overdrafting, without cumbersome restrictions, of the aquifers.

    Not only is ag not interested in accepting reduced allocations to achieve this goal but they are likewise unwilling to move forward with any sort of replenishment fee that would fund projects that could recharge the basins. And only because the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is forcing the issue, is ag very reluctantly accepting AMI (automatic metering infrastructure (ag prefers “self-reporting”, lol). But, as is to be expected, they are fighting this tooth and nail.

    Calleguas wants to capture stormwater, which is a good idea. However, without regional cooperation (and some necessary arm-twisting) the funding and the siting of the infrastructure will be a non-starter. Too bad they don’t have the vision to find an elegant solution (say, at Ormond Beach where natural topography and biological processes would be an asset).

  5. Paul White January 29, 2017 at 10:29 am

    William – We hope you’ll check out and consider joining our efforts to totally replace the Council and Water Department leadership. Until that’s changed, nothing will change.

  6. William Hicks January 29, 2017 at 5:10 am

    My guess is that the County Supervisors have had little help here as well. How about Jacqui Irwins influence in all this? Where’s that?

    If this is a proposal from Cal AM, then use the pipeline or suffer the consequences of politicians being replaced with people that are willing to work as hard as Trump does. Even with his disadvantage of no political experience, he at least shows initiative. What are our local politicians beholden to, human needs or mountain lions?


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