Cutbacks in the supply of state water to the major cities of eastern Ventura County--including Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley--may be considered as early as next month because of the state's continuing drought, according to a regional water official.
While most of the eastern county has been virtually unaffected by the drought until now, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said that could change in April after the state officially assesses rainfall levels of the last year.
"At this moment, we are not planning any cutbacks," spokesman Jay Malinowski said. "But that could change at the end of the month."
The Metropolitan Water District, which receives most of its water from the state water project, supplies the Calleguas Municipal Water District, which in turn supplies water to Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Camarillo and Oxnard.
Although the regional water district has not announced any cutbacks, Malinowski said cities in the county could be asked as early as this week to begin drawing up water-reduction ordinances that could be implemented.
Malinowski said the issue has arisen because the end of March marks the end of the so-called "rain year," the period in which the state's annual rainfall is officially assessed.
If, as expected, the state Department of Water Resources, which operates the state water project, determines that not enough rain has fallen this year to meet the demands of its customers, cutbacks may be required, Malinowski said.
Malinowski said he could not estimate the amount of cutback expected, saying only that he does not expect it to be as large as 20%.
Directors of the board of the Metropolitan Water District will vote Tuesday on a resolution that would ask all cities and government agencies in Southern California that use water provided by the district to pass water-reduction ordinances that could be immediately implemented with word from Metropolitan, Malinowski said.
"We want these ordinances on the books so they can be called into play immediately," he said.
Kurt O. Reithmayr, principal engineer for the city of Thousand Oaks and director on the Calleguas Municipal Water board, said Calleguas has already begun to consider such a standby ordinance. But he said he was surprised to learn that cutbacks from Metropolitan may be imminent.
"Until now, Met has supplied all the water we've needed," Reithmayr said. "We're sitting fine now, but if Met cuts us back, we will have to pass it along.
"Demand is constantly going up and supply is getting worse," he said. "There will certainly be a crunch and I think it's going to come very, very quickly."
The disclosure that eastern areas of the county may soon be faced with water cutbacks follows months of debate over cutbacks and rationing in some cities in the county's westernmost region, which are not linked to the state water system.
In the most drastic water conservation measure considered in the county, the Ventura City Council is expected to formally approve a strict new water rationing plan tonight on all of the city's residential and business water customers. That measure has already received preliminary approval.
Although the Ventura ordinance includes stiff penalties for exceeding the water rations, Ventura officials said this week they hope their plan will inspire cooperation instead of resentment.
The ordinance, which is modeled after one in place in the unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County known as Goleta, cuts water allocations to industrial and commercial users by 15% to 20%.
The ordinance assigns quotas by household. Allocations for houses start at 294 gallons per day, based on four-person family. Allocations for apartment dwellers begin at 196 gallons per day, based on a three-person household.
The Goleta Water District imposed a similar rationing plan on May 1, 1989, after the operators of Lake Cachuma told the district that its allocation of water would be reduced by 20%.
Larry Farwell, conservation coordinator at Goleta, said the restrictions imposed so far in Goleta amount to about a 15% cutback. He added, however, that residents have cut back even more than that, reducing their usage by about 40% and contributing to an overall 28% reduction for all homes and businesses in the area.
At a time when further cutbacks are expected from Lake Cachuma, Farwell said that puts the district in good shape now.
Of the 1,600 appeals for extra water allocations since the program started, Farwell said, only 70 have been denied.
The rationing in Goleta, however, has caused some problems for residents.
David Moore was one of the 70 residents turned down in a request for extra water after claiming that the duplex he owns should be viewed as two separate houses instead of multiple-dwelling units.
He and his grown son and small daughter live in half of the duplex he owns, which he said has three bedrooms and two baths on each side. He rents out the second side. Each side receives an allocation of about 58 gallons per person, the Goleta allowance for multiple housing units.
"We have lawns, we have laundry," he said. "But they didn't want to hear it at all. A duplex is a multiple unit and that was it."
Throughout the Goleta area, lawns are starting to brown.
Many Goleta residents are using the techniques that the district has suggested in a public education campaign.
"We have a bucket in our shower for when we're waiting for the water to get warm," said 9-year-old Justin Ramirez, the son of Jill and Tony Ramirez. "We take the water out and throw it on the plants."
Similar techniques will be suggested as part of a public education campaign in Ventura, which will begin with a brochure mailing on March 23, Jones said.
The Ventura water shortage originates at Lake Casitas, which is nearing the level at which it cannot sustain a prolonged drought, Jones said.
The Casitas Municipal Water District, which supplies most of the water used by the city of Ventura, and a small portion of that used by the city of Ojai, will soon hold public hearings on an ordinance that would cut the amount of water its customers receive.
John Johnson, general manager for Casitas, said he believes the Ojai Valley has time to move more slowly into a water rationing program than the city of Ventura.
Nonetheless, Johnson is recommending that the Casitas Board of Directors declare a water shortage emergency when it holds a public hearing Wednesday night, call for an immediate 20% voluntary cutback on all customer demands and begin a 45-day moratorium on new service connections.
Johnson said he is proposing a six-stage program for water conservation throughout the district. To give the public time to discuss the plan, he said he will suggest to the Casitas board that it delay adoption of the full program until another public hearing April 11.