About half a dozen farmers and several water companies have filed protests asking the state to deny Thousand Oaks the right to sell treated sewer water, which the city has been dumping since the early 1970s into the Conejo River for landowners downstream to use for free.
"We use 1,080 acre-feet of this water annually and have no other source of water," farmer Mike Brucker wrote in his protest to the State Water Resources Board. "Without this water, we would lose our farm and our livelihood."
But Thousand Oaks sees it another way: If the farmers want to operate, they should buy the water.
Caught in one of the worst droughts in memory in Ventura County, the city has devised a plan to pump the water out of the creek and sell it to farmers on the Oxnard Plain. Normally, cities can use the water in their sewage treatment plants any way they like.
But since Thousand Oaks is pouring the water into the creek, it is part of the public domain. As a result, the state must grant the city rights to sell the 13,000 acre-feet of treated water that it is dumping into the creek each year.
According to Dave Cornelius of the state Division of Water Rights, state water officials will review the protests and set up a hearing for the city to respond to the concerns.
Don Nelson, city utilities director, said the city is in the process of negotiating with some of the protesters.