The City of Ventura remains in discussions to lease a portion of its allotment of state water, with hopes not only to aid local districts saddled with low water supplies, but to assuage the city’s own budgetary problems.
Since February, officials have been on the lookout for prospective buyers to close a deal that would see Ventura part temporarily with some of its holdings on the state-supplied water flow, having hired technology consultants to seek out agencies interested in the prospect.

Now, city leaders are optimistic an arrangement could be finalized this summer, when abundant water supplies are needed most.

“It’s just a one-year deal. We’re definitely looking into it,” says Susan Rungren, a utilities engineer with the city.

If such a deal is struck by the time Ventura’s next fiscal cycle begins, the city stands to account for a $675,000 addition to its 2009-2010 revenue stream, according to records from a Feb. 23 City Council meeting, the last time officials deliberated on the matter.

The monies would help to offset the almost $1 million fee officials pay annually for the city’s state water entitlement, those same records show. Under the agreement, Ventura has an annual holding of 10,000 acre feet from the State Water Project (SWP), in place now for 40 years until the contract expires in 2038.

When that deal was struck in 1971, the city partnered with wholesale supplier Casitas Municipal Water District in Oak View and the Department of Water Resources, becoming a stakeholder in state water with hopes that Ventura could eventually supplement its own water supply, through state resources, sometime in the future.

Decades later, Ventura, without the infrastructure needed to flow in all of its state allotment, has year after year returned its allocation for a refund of about $75,000. Regulations have prevented officials from selling off their whole entitlement.

But sale of just a fraction of Ventura’s state water holdings is better than nothing, especially for those districts relying on such allotments for their primary water supply, yet prohibited from importing those full allotments.

“It’s fairly much over-allocated,” Paul Jenkin, environmental director of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, says about California’s state water supplies.

“For those who depend on all their water from state water supplies are in trouble,” says Lynn Rodriguez, who oversees the county’s Integrated Water Management Plan.

The Calleguas Municipal Water District in Thousand Oaks imports state water for use by Oxnard, Camarillo, Port Hueneme, the naval base, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, and other unincorporated areas — 75 percent of Ventura County’s population, says Don Kendall, Calleguas general manage

Ventura’s water sale deal is contingent upon selling its partial allotment as long as its holding isn’t reduced below 15 percent, according to records.

If Ventura’s plan succeeds, budget problems are turned around, and it resumes its normal 10,000 acre feet holding per year, it seems unlikely that the city will take advantage of using its own state water allotment anytime in the near future.

“We’re not looking to buy or anything,” said Rungren. “There weren’t really any options.”

Building out the necessary infrastructure — piping, drainage, filtering, not to mention storage — could exceed millions of dollars. Rungren did not have an estimated cost, but said that costs have undoubtedly doubled since initial studies five years ago examined build out of capital for receiving state water.

“We’re definitely looking into the future, what could we do, what’s the best for the city,” she said.

“In theory, I think they (Ventura) could get more than 10,000 (acre feet) a year,” says Rodriguez. “In some point in the future, it could be needed. It would take cost and time.”

Jenkin said that both the monetary cost and the carbon footprint impacted by such a venture are great.

“The thing people don’t realize is, it takes a lot of energy to transport water,” he said.

Jenkin, who appears in a new water conservation documentary entitled Watershed Revolution, stresses that counties across the state should adopt greater awareness toward using natural resources over state water supplies. He mentioned Ventura’s access to water from Lake Casitas; for cities like Oxnard, recent talks to adopt better methods for groundwater retrieval.

“There are many ways we can greatly increase our efficiency,” Jenkin said. “We’re unique in Southern California because we have a 20-year yield of water. I think it’s more incumbent upon us to live within our means than seek out outside water sources.”   

Watershed Revolution will be screened June 20 at 7 p.m. at the Lodge, 11 Ash Street, in Ventura. Go to, www.watershedrevolution.com.

paul@vcreporter.com