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Study Says Water Plan Could Strain Valley : Thousand Oaks: The report indicates that the benefits of diverting treated effluent to the Oxnard Plain outweigh problems.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A plan to divert water from Thousand Oaks’ sewer treatment plant could strain the water needs of downstream water agencies and farmers in the Santa Rosa Valley, according to a draft environmental report issued Thursday.

But the report also indicates that the environmental effects are insignificant, compared to the benefits of providing a reliable water source to farmers on the Oxnard Plain.

The report is part of a lengthy process that Thousand Oaks has embarked upon to get state permission to sell about 11,000 acre-feet of treated water that it now dumps each year into Conejo Creek. The water comes from Thousand Oaks’ Hill Canyon treatment plant and augments the creek as it snakes through the Santa Rosa Valley on its way to the sea.

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An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons of water, enough to supply two families of four for a year. Thousand Oaks estimates that it could get $55 to $60 an acre-foot for the treated water that it now gives away.

Farmers have drawn water from the creek since the 1970s. The flow has helped recharge the Santa Rosa Basin, one of the primary ground-water sources for local water agencies.

Under the Thousand Oaks plan, that water would be sold to the Pleasant Valley County Water District in Camarillo. Pleasant Valley would in turn supply 35 growers in the Oxnard Plain.

The environmental report--done for the city by the consulting firm of Ch2m Hill of San Jose--said the Thousand Oaks plan would force farmers now drawing from the creek to seek supplies from the Camrosa County Water District in Camarillo.

But the report notes that Camrosa has no surplus water, so Thousand Oaks’ plan could create a significant effect on the ability of Camrosa to satisfy water demands.

Camrosa General Manager Gina Manchester said she had not read the report. But she said the district is trying to expand its facilities to meet increased demands in coming years. Camrosa has 8,500 customers, about 200 of whom are farmers.

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“We’re in a drought year. All of California does not have an adequate supply,” she said. “We need to expand our facilities and our resources.”

Don Nelson, Thousand Oaks’ utility director, said the city has offered Camrosa 1,440 acre-feet of treated water each year to help augment its supplies. But that water would not be guaranteed forever, he added.

The report recommends that farmers reduce their water use by increasing their efficiency and that stringent measures be imposed to ensure that they conserve.

“We believe this report concludes that there is no significant impact that cannot be mitigated,” Nelson said.

But one Camarillo farmer who draws from the creek said the Thousand Oaks plan would rob him of a free and plentiful source of water. If those sources were denied, he said, farmers such as him could be forced out of business.

“They take that source of water, and we’re bankrupt,” said John Lamb, whose family, descendants of Juan Camarillo, owns Camlam Farms Inc. outside Camarillo.

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“We’ve been farming this land since 1860, and we’re not eager to lose it,” Lamb said. The 1,000-acre farm uses about 1,200 acre-feet of water from the creek each year to cultivate lemons, avocados and row crops.

Lamb criticized the environmental report for failing to study the economic hardships that farmers would suffer if they could not draw water from the creek. He also balked at the report’s recommendation that farmers be more efficient.

“We’ve already had efficiency studies done on our property,” he said. “I think most farmers are more conservationist now. With the cost of electricity and the cost of water, you won’t be in business long if you’re not.”

Nelson said Thousand Oaks is expected to conduct its own economic study to be filed separately.

The City Council tentatively plans to hold a hearing in September to certify the report after a 45-day period to allow the public to comment. The State Water Resources Control Board--which monitors water sources such as creeks and rivers--is not expected to consider the plan before early next year.

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