Ojai Valley wells hit record
by Jesse Phelps
Harry Bodell, executive secretary of the Ojai Basin Groundwater
Management Agency, has some good news and some bad news concerning
groundwater levels and upcoming water bills for ranchers and
growers in Ojai.
Extraction charges are being dropped nearly 17 percent for local
growers, from $6 to $5 per acre-foot, though the latest agency
figures show the static water level at Southern California Water
Company's Ojai Mutual No. 4 well is down to 152 acre-feet, a
record low for the past 10 years.
Agency President Rae Hanstad said the typical customer should
feel no immediate impact - valley wells are 500 feet deep and
no rate changes are planned for the average user - but acknowledged
that ignoring such a warning sign could present problems down
the line and suggested valley residents might begin conserving
their water usage.
"Do we sit around and pray for a rainy winter or should
we start conserving now? To wait doesn't really seem to make
a whole lot of sense to me. I don't feel convinced that we shouldn't
start conservation," Hanstad stated.
Still, Hanstad feels that the situation is well in hand. "There's
been a lot of concern in the community about whether we're headed
for a drought. Our conclusion is that we are not," she said.
Of course, longtime Ojai residents have seen days more grim.
The agency was formed in 1991 as a response to concerns from
local water and well users stemming from what had become a five-year
drought. The basin was far lower than current levels. Local residents
and planners were worried that Ojai might eventually be forced
into a position to begin importing water from afar.
Ojai's entire water supply has always been generated locally.
Larger Southern California communities like Los Angeles frequently
divert water from a variety of external sources, such as the
Sierra Nevada mountains or the Colorado River, but Ojai's main
sources are the Lake Casitas reservoir and Southern California
Water Company, which supplies Ojai basin groundwater from four
Counting additional private sources, used primarily for agricultural
irrigation, about125 wells exist throughout the valley. For now,
the agency has decided to let users tap those wells at a reduced
cost despite the diminishing water levels. The assumption is
clear; the danger is not severe assuming rain is forthcoming
in the near future and the savings to extractors should offset
residents' concerns about overuse.
Southern California Water Company general manager Frank Bennett
says, "We're not concerned. We don't forsee any problems
providing our customers water. We have ample water supply."
The Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency's mission is to
oversee Ojai's water, to make sure there is a long-term supply
and to protect the quantity and the quality of all water consumed
or used in the valley.
Constant "monitoring is part of that," Hanstad notes,
and she makes clear that concerned residents of the valley always
have an avenue to express their concerns directly to decision-makers
concerning Ojai water policy. "All agency neetings are open
to the public. I would urge members of the public interested
in their water to attend our meetings."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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