OJAI VALLEY : Ranchers Object to Water Cutoffs, Fines

A dozen Ojai Valley and Rincon ranchers pleaded Wednesday with the Casitas Municipal Water District not to shut off their water or impose stiff fines for expanding crops during the water shortage.

Last April, the district ordered agricultural customers not to expand crops for at least a year.

On Wednesday, the district board was ready to fine violators $2,500 per acre and charge them 10 times the normal water rate if they did not destroy any added crops in 30 days. But after hearing the growers' pleas, the board postponed action until Oct. 10.

The ranchers, mainly citrus and avocado growers, urged board members to consider whether they are using more water rather than fine them for planting more acreage. Some said they have made irrigation improvements and are using less water.

Larry Rose, a director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau and the California Avocado Society, said many growers paid nursery deposits years ago to plant new trees this year and said their livelihoods are being threatened.

Casitas officials said they are still determining, from aerial photos and inspections, how many growers have illegally expanded their orchards.

The proposed penalties require the 14 smaller agencies that get water from Casitas to adopt similar fines for their customers. Growers would have to submit to a property inspection within 10 days and provide records showing when any new plants were put in. Those who did not comply would face an immediate water shut-off.

Those found in violation would be fined $2,500 annually per acre until the new crops are removed or destroyed.

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