Friday, May 26, 2017

[Ventura County] Grand jury finds cities under-prepared for another major water emergency

Ventura County may have survived the worst of the state’s drought, but if a severe dry spell returns and lasts more than five years, most local cities will be back in serious trouble.
That’s the finding of a report issued this week by the Ventura County grand jury that evaluated plans of the county’s 10 cities to see whether local officials have adequately addressed their water needs now and in the future.
Several cities, according to the report, rely too much on imported water and haven’t developed plans for an emergency water shortage. None of the cities have thought out how they would deal with long-term drought, the report said.
For example, Calleguas Water District, which delivers water to about 75 percent of the county, gets three-quarters of its supplies from Northern California through the state Water Project aqueduct, the report noted.
“If an earthquake were to damage the aqueduct, Calleguas would run out of water in about a month,” the report said. “Authorities state an earthquake cutting off the aqueduct isn’t a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when.’”
Although the county is now no longer in “extreme” drought conditions following heavy rains in December, January and February, the county remains in the “moderate” drought category, and many nearby reservoirs remain at less than 50 percent of capacity, the report said.
Complicating the situation is the county’s fractured water delivery system. While some cities rely mostly on imported sources from wholesalers, others use mostly ground water, runoff stored in reservoirs and recycled water.
In many cases, it’s the water retailers, not the cities, that control the local supplies, so the amount of available local water often determines whether cities can approve new housing or retail developments.
“ Development plans are potentially constrained by the water availability,” the report said.
Because county ordinances such as Save Open-space and Agriculture Resources, or SOAR, restrict development in unincorporated areas without prior voter approval, most of the county’s projected population growth is expected to occur in the cities. So the grand jury focused on the relationship between local water supplies and urban development in the municipalities.
For its research, the civil investigative body used state-mandated Urban Water Management Plans, which California requires all urban and wholesale water suppliers and retail water agencies to update every five years.
Although the local water plans meet minimum state-required, three-year drought scenarios, “ none of the plans address a longer drought . . . even though the current drought has lasted over five years,” the report said.
“Catastrophic water shortages do not appear to have been given high priority in the Urban Water Management Plans,” the grand jury found.
In addressing long- term needs, the report said, local water plans rely on overly optimistic projections of imported water from wholesalers such as the Metropolitan Water District, or MWD.
Such predictions are no longer reliable, the report said.
For example, the MWD has projected that “without a significant increase in the amount of available water there will be water restrictions in eight out of every 10 years,” the report said. Unless customers significantly cut back on use, “annual retail water demand within MWD will outstrip resources by approximately 1.3 million acre-feet, or 22 percent,” the report said.
In addition, the report said, cities are counting on tapping into new sources of ground water in the future by building new infrastructure “which has neither been approved nor funded.”
“Long-term city plans are based on the optimistic view there will be as much water available in 2035 or 2040, as there was in 2010,” the report said. “These predictions do not include any consideration of a water constrained future of frequent and extensive periods of drought.”
The report recommends that council members in the 10 cities work with the county’s water suppliers to develop “long-term plans to respond to catastrophic disruptions of water supplies and droughts exceeding three years.”
“The grand jury further recommends the 10 city councils ensure all future water availability plans clearly identify any potential water sources that are based on unfunded or unpermitted infrastructure.”
May 25, 2017
Thousand Oaks Acorn
By Hector Gonzalez

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