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Reclamation Project Breaks Ground in Camarillo

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Schools, parks and farms will get cheaper water and relief from droughts with an ambitious water reclamation project that officially broke ground Thursday.

When the Conejo Creek Diversion Project is completed, Camrosa Water District will capture treated sewer water from Thousand Oaks, store it in vast pools, then recycle it for use on landscaping, golf courses and agriculture in Camarillo and unincorporated land.

The undertaking is the first of its kind in Ventura County and will save the district $1 million a year by lowering the amount of imported water it buys.

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District officials say it will also stabilize water rates for the district’s residential and agricultural users in a portion of Camarillo and the Santa Rosa Valley, as well as ensure a steady amount of available water during droughts.

Although the groundbreaking was Thursday along Calleguas Creek near Lewis Road, construction actually began about six weeks ago after two decades of lawsuits and negotiations. The $11-million project should take a year to complete, with the first water delivered in August 2001. About seven miles of 30-inch steel pipe will be laid to divert waste water from Conejo Creek to the settling ponds in Camarillo.

“This project makes so much sense because after the water was used in Thousand Oaks, it was being wasted by just flowing into the ocean,” said Lee Miller, a citrus grower and former general manager of the Pleasant Valley County Water District. “This will reuse that water and maintain it underground.”

Farmers in the Tierra Rejada and Santa Rosa valleys now rely on expensive potable water imported from outside the county. After the project is completed, water used in sinks, showers and toilets in Thousand Oaks will be treated at a plant and allowed to flow downstream from Conejo Creek to the diversion point. Thousand Oaks will make about $500,000 a year by selling the treated waste water.

Project officials said the immediate beneficiaries will be schools and parks that water large expanses of grass and other greenery.

A high school that might pay $6,000 a year to water 5 acres of grass will see the cost drop to about $3,000, said Richard Hajas, general manager of the Camrosa water district.

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“Growers that have to rely on well water are scared to death because they’ll be rationed during a drought and maybe be fined if they pump the water,” said Tom Vujovich, a grower with 1,500 acres in Camarillo and Oxnard. “This will make us some of the most valuable farmland around because we have a steady, reliable water source.”

Area residents will see the indirect benefit of stable water prices, Hajas said. Rates likely won’t rise for many years because the supply of drinking water will not be tapped for agricultural use, he said.

Camrosa will share unused water with the nearby Pleasant Valley County Water District, officials said.

The road to Thursday’s groundbreaking was rocky, with numerous lawsuits and squabbles among the affected agencies. Downstream growers sued the city of Thousand Oaks, saying they were entitled to pump some of the water for their crops. And the state Department of Fish and Game argued against the project because of fears that a drop in water levels would affect sensitive creek habitat.

Local water officials are thrilled that the project is on its way to completion.

“This project is the backbone for drought-proofing Ventura County,” said Don Kendall, general manager of the Calleguas Municipal Water District. “We are all very excited about moving forward on this.”

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