Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Letter on Ventura Water Reclamation Special Studies

below is the text of a letter sent today to the City of Ventura:

RE: Ventura Water Reclamation Special Estuary Studies Work Plans

Thank you for providing an opportunity to review the work plans for the Santa Clara River Estuary special studies. We recognize that the Estuary Subwatershed Study, Treatment Wetlands Feasibility Study, and Recycled Water Studies are all conditions imposed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for continued discharge into the estuary until the impacts and alternatives are further analyzed. However, we are concerned that these individual studies will not point to the holistic solutions that we need.

For the past several years the Surfrider Foundation has been following the City of Ventura’s water planning processes. We are aware of the regulatory pressures upon the city from all directions: water supply, wastewater discharge, and stormwater discharge. In each instance, the City has been struggling to maintain the status quo, and provide for future growth. In the mean time, our rivers are drying up and choked with algae, our beaches and estuaries are in jeopardy, and we face increasing water shortages in the future.

As you know, we have also participated in the IRWMP regional water management process and the Ventura River Watershed Council. Unfortunately, these parallel efforts have yet to realize the potential for developing integrated solutions to solve these regulatory problems while providing a secure and sustainable future for city residents.

As we enter a period of significant uncertainty with climate change, peak oil, and population growth, it is imperative that we plan ahead. Increased drought and flooding, population growth, and sea level rise will all increase the pressure on our water resources. History has shown that significant capital expenditures intended to solve a single problem often lead to increased problems down the line. An extreme example is the potential for the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant to be rendered obsolete with future sea level rise – has anyone considered what happens then?

A quick ‘back of the envelope’ calculation reveals that the current wastewater discharge of 9 MGD into the Santa Clara River estuary represents more than 50% of the total city water supply. Therefore we are ‘wasting’ more than half of our water, while the remainder of our drinking water supply is poured onto lawns and parks. Surely we can do better. (See Cycle of Insanity)

We strongly encourage that the City of Ventura commission a study using grant funds to design a multidisciplinary and interdepartmental integrated water plan. Such a planning effort should aim to develop a vision for optimizing the city’s water use from all sources (i.e. water supply, stormwater, and wastewater.) Wherever possible, water should be captured and reused on site. Specific concepts may include:

Decentralized wastewater treatment to facilitate reclaimed water use
Biosolid/algae - wastewater to energy
Stormwater capture and reuse
“Green Streets” and LID retrofit of urban infrastructure
• “Ocean Friendly Gardens” and greywater to offset residential landscape irrigation

We recognize that these concepts are all big departures from the current reality, but it is clear that a new paradigm will be necessary for future sustainability.

We also acknowledge that these are all expensive propositions. Because this is a statewide (and global) crisis, the State Department of Water Resources (DWR) has earmarked funding for IRWMP planning efforts under Proposition 50 and Proposition 1E. Other grants are available for implementation. Multi-purpose projects may take advantage of several funding sources to achieve a cost effective approach to a sustainable future.

The City of Ventura should recognize that the seemingly unrelated issues of wastewater, stormwater, flood control, endangered species, energy, transportation, recreation, and overall quality of life present an opportunity to plan ahead and take advantage of state and federal incentives to modernize the aging infrastructure and solve all of these problems through integrated systems.

Attached is a conceptual planning approach that may help create the ‘roadmap’ needed to integrate water resources in the City’s area of influence, as well as within the broader watershed context.

Remember, failure to plan is planning to fail.