West County’s water crisis has provoked much controversy over the last five years and it’s not getting any better, at least not for the moment. As Lake Casitas’ level continues its downward trend, now at 32.4 percent, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors agreed on Aug. 7 to urge the Casitas Municipal Water District to declare a stage 4 drought emergency. Supervisor Steve Bennett, District 1, which includes Ojai and Ventura, the same as the Casitas district, said that such a declaration wouldn’t necessarily include mandated conservation efforts but that it would bring attention to the issue.
The conservation methods that come with a stage 4 drought declaration are unclear, but dwindling water supplies for any municipality have exponential repercussions, from residents’ habits to agriculture and the real estate industry. But a drought emergency is not new in the area. In July 2016, the district declared a stage 3 drought emergency when the lake was at 40 percent capacity, which mandated several different water conservation measures with fines attached for not following them. They included no outdoor irrigation from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; all outdoor irrigation recommended to be limited to Saturday only; sweep, don’t wash sidewalks, driveways and parking areas except for safety or sanitary purposes; no runoff, keep irrigation on the landscape, etc.
It’s not clear how the stage 3 drought declaration has impacted Lake Casitas water levels over the last couple of years, but surely the Thomas Fire negated some of those conservation efforts. The district itself is also in flux, with Casitas Municipal Water District General Manager Steve Wickstrum announcing his retirement in early August and Public Relations Manager Ron Merckling vacating this position.
While some would argue that West County consumers have access to groundwater supplies, that there is potential water supply in the hills and mountains, that the city of Ventura is working toward connecting to the state water supply, and that rainfall is unpredictable and could replenish Lake Casitas soon to some degree, it is simply unreasonable to deny that water consumption habits have to change.
At stage 4, Ventura and Ojai stakeholders will not be alone, as several cities in California have had to endure it already. The question is, what will be West County residents and business owners decide to do to stretch the thin supply until the rains come or alternative sources become available? It’s time to get over the controversy and the debate and get focused on how to maintain and manage what is left until something changes. If the level has dropped roughly 8 percent in two years, it’s time to think about what to plan for if nothing changes in the next five years.