City, Casitas move on water issues

Bill Warner, Ojai Valley News Reporter
Rain is falling in the Ojai Valley this winter, but the reality of drought is still an issue for the Ojai City Council and the Casitas Municipal Water District. Both took proactive measures this week regarding the local water portfolio.
“A break in the drought would not mean we are done with the water supply concern,” said Russell Sydney, executive director of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition (OVGC). Sydney's comment came in support of a three-part water policy discussion item on the City Council's Jan. 10 agenda. 
That action, which passed by unanimous vote, called for a letter from the city of Ojai urging the CMWD's direct involvement in the State Water Tie-In Project currently under development initiated by the city of Ventura. It also authorized Ojai City Manager Steve McClary to hire a professional consultant for the purpose of critiquing the “alternative plan” recently submitted by the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency to the California Department of Water Quality.
A third component of the action, however, was the adoption of an official 10-step action plan for addressing the water supply for the Ojai Valley. The steps are aimed largely at stronger ties with — and monitoring of — both CMWD and OBGMA. These include the endorsement of and regular reports on the District's involvement in the proposed tie-in to the State Water Project, as well as regular reports on the ongoing hydrometric survey of Lake Casitas. The plan also urges CMWD to adopt a water budget rate structure for billing its customers.
Additionally, the plan calls for Ojai Mayor Johnny Johnston, who is now the city's representative on the OBGMA Board of Directors, to press for greater transparency within the agency, along with past audit reports, a review of the OBGMA's 2007 management plan and a review, if possible, of data on all active wells drawing water from the Ojai basin.
The plan also stipulates support for the OVGC's educational efforts in water conservation and the possibility of supporting a regional water authority to mediate and coordinate the interests and activities of the 22 different entities having some degree of jurisdiction over the Valley's water supply.
Meeting Jan. 11, the CMWD Board of Directors was unanimous in directing General Manager Steve Wickstrum to fully engage the District's interests in the engineering/design phase of the proposed tie-in to the State Water Project via the Calleguas Water District's infrastructure east of Ventura. The cost of that involvement — approximately $200,000 — received considerable discussion in the meeting but was deemed worth the expenditure in the end.
“I think the steps taken by the City Council were extremely noteworthy and great for the Ojai Valley, water activist Angelo Spandrio said Jan. 12. “And the decision by Casitas is extremely important to the diversification of our water portfolio. It means we're all in this thing together.”
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