By Sheldon Berger
Reports of the City’s $9.2 million shortfall which could result in the closing of Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center, Carnegie Art Museum and the La Colonia Branch Library are disconcerting. However, there is a solution being offered by United Water Conservation District (United) that would eliminate the City’s budget deficit and generate millions to keep these beloved landmarks open while also helping to resolve local water issues. A solution that is a big win for us all.
Oxnard’s “GREAT” recycled water facility, also known as Advanced Water Purification Facility (AWPF), cost some $71.8 million to construct, but has been operating on a part-time basis in large part due to the limited infrastructure for distribution of the recycled water it produces. Not only does this increase operational costs for the City, the water it produces is sold at a loss with the residents of Oxnard subsidizing the process. Additionally, the City’s previous Water Plans propose new water infrastructure that could cost residents tens of millions, when United and its Oxnard Hueneme pipeline system have been consistently providing cost effective and mutually beneficial water to the City and its residents for over 60 years.
In full disclosure, I have proudly served as a member of the United Board for over 30 years, but anyone can see the value of United’s offer to continue to work in partnership with the City, rather than the City reconstructing the systems that United already has in operation.
Using an existing City pipeline, for example, the recycled water from the AWPF plant could be moved to Riverpark basins where United would use the water to recharge the dwindling aquifer of the Oxnard Plain. This would defer the City’s need for the proposed $20 million construction of a new pipeline while also generating new revenue for the City, as UWCD would pay the true cost of the recycled water.
By using existing infrastructure, at no cost to the City, the AWPF plant could operate around the clock, producing an estimated 7,000 acre feet of water per year, which United would purchase from the City’s at fair market value. This saves the City a projected $1million it had allocated for the part-time operation of the AWPF and underwriting the reduced purchase price of the recycled water. The full-time operation of the facility would also produce more water, on a more economical and efficient basis, which would be stored in local basins, providing future water for local farmers and the communities of Oxnard, Port Hueneme, the Beach District and Naval Base Ventura, while protecting against future droughts. It’s a mutually beneficial solution cycle that could continue indefinitely.
Plus, using the recycled water to recharge the local aquifers not only benefits diminished groundwater levels, it also helps dilute rising nitrate levels resulting from decreasing well levels. Storing the recycled water in underground aquifers also serves as another level of purification, so that when the water is eventually pumped from the aquifers, it passes regulatory standards for drinking water with flying colors.
Adding to the urgency of this proposed solution, as reported in a recent article (Tainted tap water causes problems in El Rio), United’s ability to divert water from the Santa Clara River at its Freeman Diversion facility has been greatly diminished due to requirements imposed by National Marine Fisheries Service’s Long Beach Division. By purchasing Oxnard’s recycled water for groundwater recharge, United would also be counteracting potential public health issues of rising nitrate levels similar to those that shut down water service to the 364 Vineyard Avenue Acres Mutual Water Company customers. While UWCD was able to provide safe drinking water to the homes and businesses in El Rio affected by the Vineyard Avenue Acres’ nitrate issues, the situation serves as a cautionary tale that could potentially impact other neighboring communities in the future.
In addition to generating new revenue for the City’s civic services and providing for more efficient, cost effective operation of its AWPF, this proposed partnership between the City of Oxnard and UWCD is a forward looking move that would insure water resources for future generations, prevent further seawater intrusion along the coastal plain, and insure the citizenry’s access to safe, healthy water. It’s a win for all of us.
Sheldon Berger is a Board Director for the United Water Conservation District representing the City of Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Beach District and Naval Base Ventura.