Steelhead debate goes underground
By Jesse Phelps
Ojai's great steelhead debate
will continue this Thursday as a new source of concern has surfaced.
Where once worry over lake levels dominated conversation, the
new topic is that water may be taken directly from the ground
- and local growers aren't happy.
The board of the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency will
hold a public meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Ojai City
Council Chambers to address the growing concerns with the proposed
fish passage at Robles Diversion and its potential to affect
groundwater levels for farmers.
"If you look at the valley and imagine that all the citrus
trees were gone, the ambience would be changed, it would be gone,"
said local grower and OBGMA board member Jerry Conrow.
"The people of the city
have a vested interest in what's happening in the East End because
we do maintain air quality. Nobody wants to talk about how important
these trees are in maintaining air quality. And we need cheap
water to be able to maintain it. Times are hard enough for farmers."
Kindra Loomis, a project scientist with Entrix, Inc., of Walnut
Creek - a firm hired by local agencies to oversee compliance
with the Ventura River watershed Southern California Steelhead
Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) - has accepted an invitation
to address the board. OBGMA secretary Harry Bodell urged all
well owners to attend and "find out what the Environmental
Protection Act has in mind for your water."
At the last meeting of the groundwater management agency, Casitas
Municipal Water District manager John Johnson appeared before
the board to answer questions about the plan. Nothing was decided
as a result of this visit.
"He was warmly received," said Bodell, "But concurrence
by the Ojai Basin GMA board on approving the latest changes to
the scope of work of the steelhead HCP could not be reached."
Much recent debate stems from mixed feelings about San Antonio
Creek, which provides the main drainage for the Ojai Groundwater
Basin and is one of the primary tributaries for of the Ventura
River watershed system. Because the creek enters the river below
Robles, it provides habitat for the steelhead already in the
river. One fish was spotted near the Soule Park golf course as
recently as two months ago.
"It was only clear in the last couple of months that this
Entrix thing was moving up into the San Antonio creek area,"
said Conrow. "The only representatives for the city and
east end are Southern California Water and OBGMA. When you step
back and look at it, all the decisions are being made by people
outside of Ojai. It's all the city of Ventura, the County of
Ventura, Casitas and others. So, my concern is that the agricultural
piece of the Ojai Valley is critical on water - and the agricultural
group maintains the ambience of the entire valley."
Efforts to provide assistance to recover Southern California
Steelhead and the development and implementation of a scientific
research program to comply with federal and state Endangered
Species Act regulations have put local water management agencies
in a position of concern that an adequate supply of water from
the Ventura River may not be preserved for human use and agricultural
San Antonio Creek and all of its tributaries may be subject to
many of the above concerns and Bodell said the meeting's discussion
should provide a "heads-up on future requirements and activities
in our basin.
You'll note that the Ojai Basin
GMA is the only organization providing input regarding Ojai streams
and the welfare of agricultural water in the Ojai Basin."
"The trout habitat restoration would appear from the outside
to be a narrow issue," said Ojai City Council member and
OBGMA board member Rae Hanstad. "But the plan affects the
balance of our water supply.
That's a major concern to everyone.
It may a one time shot for the fish but the reality is the agency
wants to be sure, since we're the only voice for Ojai, that Ojai's
needs are being represented. And this is an important opportunity
for the pubic to be informed and to share their concerns about
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