Have you read the news that water supplies for Los Angeles may become scarce andcostly because the flow from Mono Lake--almost 20% of the city's supply--has to be cut back to preserve that body of water? Is something like this going to happen to Ventura County?
Earthwatch went right to the source of water for 75% of the county's population. It's not a lake but an organization, the Calleguas Municipal Water District, which purchases and pipes in water from many sources. Evidently, lots of people are asking General Manager Donald R. Kendall if their water bills will skyrocket. These days his answer is a firm "no."
His explanation, however, is not what you'd expect. Calleguas is going to reuse water. Reuse? Yes. The source of the water will be the city of Thousand Oaks' Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment plant. Other deals are in the works to hook up to water treatment plants in Simi Valley and Oxnard.
This isn't water for drinking, mind you. It's waste water, which is treated to meet high environmental standards before it is released into local creeks that flow to the ocean. Kendall notes that there are other uses for water in addition to drinking, including agriculture and landscaping; water also is pumped into our underground aquifers to push back the salt water that's seeping in.
Many California communities are beginning to reuse water from their local treatment plants: Orange County cities have a long record of such use. In anticipation of problems with sources like Mono Lake, Los Angeles County cities have begun recycling water.
Even in drought conditions or times of price fluctuations, the flow from our homes into our waste-water facilities remains pretty constant. Yes, we practice conservation, sometimes lowering our per-household consumption by 25%, but the number of households grows and grows.
The growth issue makes for some urgency in the matter of water conservation. Calleguas needs to increase the amount of water it provides by 50% in the coming decades. Within six years, Kendall hopes to increase reclaimed water from 1% of sales to 20%. "We're doing studies to reclaim 50,000-acre feet," he said. That could mean capturing about 150 million gallons of water inside our county rather than depending on sources like Mono Lake and the Colorado River. That would take care of the 50% increase needed in the future.
Kendall called this "drought-proofing the county" and explained the liquid economics: "We pay a dear price to get it here--and then (after residents use it only once) it's discharged into the creek bed. I can capture it for one-fourth of what I pay" out-of-county water sources. He can also afford to build a separate system of pipes to deliver reusable water to agribusiness, golf courses and parks.
Our local connection with L.A.'s Mono Lake problem was spelled out explicitly by Don Nelson, a Thousand Oaks water official: "Los Angeles will draw on other sources, making outside supplies to us even more limited. We have a resource that can be (reused) instead of being lost." He has plans to reuse 100% of the water that comes out his city's waste-water facilities.
He points out, however, that this doesn't mean that all the water coming into the city gets captured for potential recycling. Only about a third does. Most of the fresh water brought into the county is used outdoors and can't be recaptured.
To truly drought-proof our county, we should change our outdoor watering habits and start using more of the reclaimed stuff. Earthwatch isn't advocating that readers siphon their wash water directly out to the rosebushes. That, as a matter of fact, is illegal in Ventura County. But local agribusiness is already beginning to buy safety-treated waste water now being provided by the utilities in their areas, as are some local golf courses, schools, apartment and condominium owners.
Mono Lake might be going dry, but Ventura County isn't.
* FYI: For information about reclaimed water, contact the county of Ventura's Resource Management Agency at 654-2494 or Water Conservation Program at 654-2440. Information is also available from local waste-water treatment plants in Camarillo, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Ventura or the Calleguas Municipal Water District (526-9323).