CMWD claims water shortage
By Jesse Phelps
In a three-to-one vote, the Casitas
Municipal Water District board of directors declared a water
shortage emergency at its weekly meeting last week,and adopted
a resolution to delay accepting connections to potential new
customers. The restrictions on water service applications went
into effect immediately.
The board also instructed district staff to report annually on
water supply and demand in apparent hopes of lifting the moratorium
as soon as possible.
"Our goal is to lift this moratorium and find new water,"
said board President Charles Bennett. Options for finding that
new water supply include conservation, buying back allocated
water, desalination or connection to the State Water Project.
Directors Bennett, James Coultas and James Word voted yes, Peter
Kaiser voted no and Bill Hicks, unable to attend the meeting,
Casitas has continually expressed concern about the amount of
water that the National Marine Fisheries Service is requiring
it to release for the fish passage operation. Though it maintains
the water requirements will exceed its safe yield, the district
has no choice but to comply with the law, provide water for the
fish passage operation and try to develop other water sources.
"In the same way that customers of a bank must balance their
own checkbooks, Casitas must balance its long-term water account,"
said John J. Johnson, general manager of the district.
Director Coultas and Russ Baggerly of the Environmental Coalition
of Ventura County addressed the current situation of the river,
the future of the fish passage and the potential effects of the
water shortage emergency on local residents.
Coultas explained that Casitas called the Water Shortage Emergency
because "prior to the biological opinion (NMFS's mandate
that Casitas begin construction on the fish passage), Casitas
had more water available for customers than we had demand, by
about 800 acre/feet. Now, with the demands to bypass water for
fish, we have less water available than total demand on the system.
To add more customers and increase the demand makes the problem
worse. It's unfair to our existing customers until we can cut
demand through conservation or find new sources, or both."
Baggerly feels that Casitas is stretching the definition of an
"According to the law," he said, "emergency is
defined as a 'sudden, unexpected occurence involving clear and
immenent danger demanding immediate action to prevent or mitigate
loss of, or damage to, life, health, property, or essential public
services.' These might include fire, flood, earthquake, geologic
movements as well as riots, accidents, or sabotage.
"It doesn't fit the definition of 'emergency,'" he
Baggerly contends that Casitas hasn't parceled out as much of
its water as it tries to show in its figures. "The allocated
water is paper water; the actual demand on the lake is much much
less," he said.
The two had very different responses when asked whether the water
shortage emergency have been called if the fish passage wasn't
"Had more demand come on the system at some point in time,
we probably would have called it anyway," said Coultas.
"That might have been many years in the future."
Baggerly called the emergency declaratrion simply the latest
extension of Casitas' public relations efforts to garner sympathy
within the community. "The hiring of the public relations
firm and all the effort Casitas has put into the PR campaign
is directed solely at blaming the federal regulatory agencies
for following the letter of the law, unneccassarily," he
He argued that Casitas "started looking for additions to
the water demand for the fish ladder," inflating numbers
based on elements such as "evaporation and leaks and essentialy
anything else they could throw into the mix to raise the water
demand number." He finished by claiming, "It's unsupportable
by scientific evidence."
Coultas said that no matter whose numbers you choose to believe,
the fact is that nobody can say for sure what the future conditions
will be. "Both of us were operating on estimates and weather
patterns and other things that effect how it works. We feel we
have to be conservative," he said.
One place the two found a bit of agreement was on the issue of
whether Casitas has done everything possible to conserve water
until now. "I'm not sure you ever have done everything that
you can," Coultas said.
Baggerly cited Casitas' own urban water mangement plan of 1989,
saying, "I believe there are 14 separate areas that could
be implemented for water conservation and Casitas has implemeted
four or five. We live in a desert and water conservation should
be considered normal and not extraordinary. The 20 years that
they've had the opportunity to do water conservation, they've
only actually given lip service to it.
Coultas said, one way or another, the board is now committed
to doing everything it can to conserve and find new avenues for
water acquisition. "The board has hired a new full-time
position, which is the water conservation specialist," he
said. "He'll coordinate all water conservation estimates
and he's going to take over a lot of the PR work. We'll be interviewing
people for this job very soon." Coultas also lauded valley
agricultural users for their continued conservation measures.
"The biggest place that we might save water is agriculture
but our farmers are unbelievably effective now, so I'm not sure
if we can save more there," he said.
Baggerly summed up by saying, "I find it unfortunate that
Casitas has chosen a path of obfuscation and fear-mongering because
of the need to supply water for an endangered species. The water
that's going to be secured for the fish is not just for the fish.
There are many water-right holders below the Robles Diversion
who rely on groundwater. That would include the Meiners Oaks
Water District, the Ventura Water District and the City of Ventura,
all of whom will find more water in the river than they normally
Coultas said the water shortage emergency declaration will create
"consequences both negative and positive." He cited
the fact that development would be slowed as a potential positive,
the continuing drops in local school enrollment as a negative.
No matter what, he said, every action has its consequences, including
the construction of the fish passage. "To ignore that, that's
ostrich-like," said Coultas. "You're putting your head
in the sand."
When a water company agrees to provide water, he said, it is
locked into that agreement for 40 years. "The worst crime
a water company can make is to sell water they don't have,"
he said. "That's highly improper."
The Ojai Valley News
to the news