OP-ED by Ojai Councilman William Weirick on Feb. 7 OVN OPINION PAGE: Watershed adjudication is an existential threat to the Ojai Valley

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By William Weirick, Ojai council member 

After decades of acting like an environmental outlaw, the city of Ventura has decided it will be able to grab more water out of the Ventura River watershed through lawyers and judges than from an agreement among neighbors consistent with the principles of true sustainability embedded in emerging state laws and regulations. That is the backstory. 
Unfortunately those frustrated by years of Ventura’s failed stewardship have been tempted to accept adjudication as a last resort. Committed advocates for the watershed have allowed themselves to be unfairly seen as allies with the city in this travesty of failed governance. These advocates for environmental responsibility are not the culprits here.
Back in 1998, the state of California recognized the Ventura River as being impaired by excessive pumping, with the city of Ventura causing the most damage by pumping roughly twice as much as all other pumpers. In 2007, the city evaded getting proper permits for pumping in its dam/well field complex just upstream from Foster Park. 
In 2013, the city failed to follow the recommendations of its own consultants with respect to its pumping practices. For years, the city has refused to enter into settlement negotiations focused solely on its excess pumping while continuing to pump the Ventura River surface flows dry, literally creating its very own bone-dry river reach.
When called on it, the city has pointed the finger of blame to the rest of us. Those of us in Ojai saw this behavior with Golden State Water. We threw them out. Voters in the city of Ventura and the rest of the county need to remove from office any elected official who keeps pursuing this course instead of working for truly collaborative, community-based solutions. 
The city of Ventura could not delay further being held accountable for its desiccating water-withdrawal policies without adjudication, so it chose adjudication to gain more delay with the inevitable result of suing everybody. The Ventura City Council fought for the right to sue all of us; it authorized the full effort to get here. The Ventura City Council has decided to forego services for its citizens by spending millions on water war lawyers, forcing farmers and ratepayers of numerous water agencies to spend their own millions on lawyers, and driving thousands of property owners to a difficult choice between spending millions on lawyers and filing fees or trusting an LA judge to decide their fate. The city of Ventura decided to be the first new watershed adjudication filed in the entire state of California since the effective date of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). 
The city of Ventura has decided to be part of a tradition that goes back to raping the land, as when mountains were destroyed through draining watersheds hydro-jetting for gold and the asserting of “pueblo” water rights founded on subjugation and crimes against humanity toward indigenous peoples. 
Adjudication is a legal construct squarely in this tradition of viewing the environment and members of the human family as something to exploit rather than cherish and respect. This is the last hurrah of a failed legacy, an attempt to use sophisticated deception to put “lipstick on the pig” and impose a fragmented patchwork of private-property rights on a common-property resource. 
A public good cannot be properly managed by dividing it into a sum of private pieces. It contradicts at its very core the moral and ethical obligation of treating the watershed as an entity to be managed by proper community stewardship. This is why adjudication is an existential threat to the Ojai Valley and needs to be rejected by all available political and legal means. 
There is only one answer: The Ventura City Council needs to switch course and repudiate adjudication. The Ventura council alone has the power to stop this madness. Start acting responsibly with your well field while sitting down with other agencies to work out a physical solution not involving suing your neighbors.
Stop viewing state regulators trying to achieve proper environmental stewardship as the enemy. View those advocating a riparian habitat as nothing more than a hodgepodge of tradable and speculative property rights as your adversary. Get on the right side of history. Stop trying to repeat the mistakes of the past. Every other governing board and council involved should adopt this policy position.

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