Wednesday, August 15, 2007

City of Ventura Studies Wastewater Reuse

Seems the City of Ventura's study to reuse Ojai Sanitary effluent raised concerns from a variety of stakeholders. At issue is the fact that during dry months most of the water in the lower river is effluent, and the study suggests that only taking half of this would not have any impacts to the ecosystem. Comments from NMFS, Santa Barabara ChannelKeeper, Surfrider Foundation ,and Ojai Sanitary themselves suggests this is not a simple matter. See below for our comment letter on this:

City's recycled water proposal is criticized

By Zeke Barlow
Saturday, August 11, 2007

Usually, environmentalists cheer proposals to conserve drinking water.

But an idea the city of Ventura is examining to use treated sewage water from the Ventura River has some worried the move aiming to help the environment could hurt it.

"Normally, the idea of recycling water is really a good one," said Russ Baggerly, director of the Ojai Valley Sanitation District. "In this instance, I don't think it's a good idea."

The city is considering replacing drinkable water it sells to oil companies with treated sewage water, which comes out of the Ojai Valley sewer plant and flows down the Ventura River.

The plan, which is in the early exploratory stage, calls for about half ­ or 1,000 acre-feet ­ of the water the sewer plant puts into the river to be diverted to oil companies. The companies currently use treated, drinkable water to force oil out of the earth.

Karen Waln, a management analyst with Ventura, said the city is always looking for ways to use recycled water instead of potable water to cut costs and help the environment. The city spent $75,000 on the recently released draft plan; the state, which encourages recycled water projects, gave another $75,000.

"It's a lot more acceptable to use reclaimed water than treated," Waln said.

But Baggerly said he believes taking that much water out of the river could hurt its ecological balance, potentially disturbing the federally endangered steelhead trout.

Much has been done to try to re-establish the fish in the river, including building a $9 million fish ladder that allows them to swim around the Robles Diversion, which sends water to Lake Casitas. Baggerly is also the chairman of the Casitas Municipal Water District Board of Directors, which paid for the ladder.

"We already spent millions of dollars to try to rehabilitate the habitat in the Ventura River," he said. "Now we are thinking about taking more than half of that water away?"

But Waln pointed to the draft report, which says the effects of taking that water can be mitigated and likely won't have an adverse effect.

Ultimately, the city could move forward even if the sanitation district opposes the project. It owns the water that comes out of the sewage plant and leases the property to the district.

Letter from Surfrider Foundation:

July 31, 2007

Karen Waln
City of Ventura
501 Poli Street
Ventura, CA 93002

Re: Ojai Valley Sanitary District (OVSD) Effluent Reuse Feasibility Study

Dear Ms. Waln,

On behalf of the Matilija Coalition, I have reviewed the Ojai Valley Sanitary District (OVSD) Effluent Reuse Feasibility Study and have the following comments.

We commend the City of Ventura for seeking alternative water strategies to optimize beneficial use of our limited water supplies. Replacing the current use of potable water for oil reclamation with reclaimed water has merit. However, we cannot support the reuse of Ojai Sanitary effluent as currently proposed in the feasibility study.

The lower Ventura River is currently dependent upon the OVSD effluent for in-stream habitat benefits during the dry summer months. According to the study (p7):

Accounting for the proposed 1000 acre-ft/year reduction in effluent discharge, produces a flow-duration curve that suggests that no flow would reach the mouth of the estuary approximately 25-percent of the time when water rights are being implemented in full.

We are concerned that the proposal to remove up to 50% of the flow from the lower river will have an adverse impact on the ecosystem. Indeed, improvements to the wastewater treatment system were funded with the understanding that the enhanced effluent would provide for sensitive in-stream habitat. Although there may be some water quality benefits from the proposal, any scheme to reuse this effluent should include assurances that there is no net loss of in-stream flow.

We recommend that opportunities for water reuse and conservation be developed within a watershed context. A comprehensive multi-agency water supply and demand budget should be conducted for the entire watershed in order to identify areas where such strategies may be best applied for the greatest overall ecosystem benefits.


Paul Jenkin
Coordinator, Matilija Coalition
Environmental Director, Surfrider Foundation - Ventura County Chapter
(805) 648-4005