litigation

The Ventura SWP Interconnection Project

 
 

 Ventura SWP Interconnection CEQA Action
Status: Active; Attorney: Roger Moore

With the goal of improved water reliability, the proposed “State Water Interconnection” is a pipeline connecting the water systems of Calleguas (via the Metropolitan Water District) and the City of Ventura. It would facilitate the availability of State Water from Calleguas to the Casitas, United and Ventura water districts, with the City of Ventura acting as lead agency. C-WIN submitted extensive comments to the EIR outlining its failure to meet CEQA guidelines, failure to demonstrate improved reliability and failure to consider costs to ratepayers. The Ventura City Council certified the EIR on August 7, 2019, and approved the next phase of the project. C-WIN filed a CEQA challenge on September 4, 2019.

Links:

Press Release
Petition
Notice
City of Ventura project page

The Ventura Interconnection Pipeline and State Water

Ventura’s State Water Interconnection Project, which the City reviewed and approved as CEQA lead agency, would build and operate a seven-mile pipeline connecting the water systems of Calleguas (via the Metropolitan Water District) and Ventura. Although the pipeline cannot ensure any specific amount of State Water could be lawfully delivered, building it would facilitate availability of State Water from Calleguas to the Casitas, United and Ventura water districts. Deliveries through the pipeline would require wheeling agreements with the Calleguas Municipal Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The Interconnection Project is a major step backward from the growing recognition that local dependence on State Water is a problem, not a solution, for water reliability and the environment. SWP water must be exported from the environmentally significant California Delta watershed—26 rivers, 1100 square miles—the largest watershed on the west coast of the Americas. The state has allocated 5.5 times more water than is available from the Delta (as shown in two independent studies by CWIN and UC Davis respectively). The SWP is so oversubscribed that courts have identified more than half its allocation as unreliable “paper water.” The Delta Reform Act of 2009 requires that regions south of the Delta reduce their dependence on the Delta watershed. As the Delta continues to decline, it is crucial for SWP contractors in southern California to focus on regional solutions—and invest in reducing, not increasing, their dependence on State Water.

C-WIN believes the cost of State Water will cripple Ventura’s ability to explore and develop sustainable regional solutions, hardening its dependence on a dying watershed. SWP contractors pay for their full allocation whether or not they receive any water. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) often sets and increases rates for State Water without public input. As an example, when Santa Barbara County agreed to connect to the SWP in 1991, the cost was assumed to be $270 million with 97% reliability. The actual cost has been $1.7 billion for, on average, only 28% of their allocation. Once dependent upon the State Water system, contractors are forever responsible for the costs associated with the maintenance and new infrastructure of the entire SWP system. Ratepayers have no direct input into these maintenance and infrastructural decisions. To make matters worse, DWR and the most powerful SWP contractors are separately seeking to change contract rules to make it easier to impose costs for new facilities, even when smaller contractors and the public oppose them. Too often, DWR and major contractors dominating the SWP system have sought to prioritize costly, environmentally damaging twentieth-century approaches to water reliability—dams, pipelines, tunnels and the like—at the expense of protected habitat, water quality, public trust resources, and sustainable local approaches better suited to the problems of the current century.

FAQs

Where does State Water come from?

The California Delta watershed. With 26 rivers and at 1100 square miles, it’s the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas. It supplies water to over half of California’s population. The State Water Project (SWP) is a water conveyance system that moves water from the Delta to agricultural and urban users in central and southern California. These users are known as “contractors”—they are under contract to pay for and receive an “allocation” of State Water, usually in addition to local/regional sources.

Why does C-WIN oppose connecting to State Water?

The short answer is that there is no more State Water. The state has already allocated 5.5 times more water than is available.

The SWP is so oversubscribed that the courts have identified more than half its allocation as unreliable “paper water.” The Delta Reform Act of 2009 requires that regions south of the Delta reduce their dependence on the Delta watershed. As the Delta continues to decline, it is crucial for State Water Project contractors in southern California to focus on regional solutions—and invest in reducing, not increasing, their dependence on State Water.

Ventura has been paying up to $1 million a year for State Water since the early 1970s. Why shouldn’t we get the water we’re entitled to?

Connecting to State Water may have been a great idea 50 years ago, but a lot has changed since then. Urban/agricultural growth and intensifying drought events have increased the demand for water. Yet the SWP has never delivered the amount of water it allocated to contractors. We can see the history of how State Water has been distributed and the effects on the communities that have relied on it. Promises that were made when the project came on line have not been kept. Contractors all over the state have received only a fraction of their allocations and have paid much more than they expected for a conveyance system that benefits a few large agricultural districts at the expense of ratepayers. Meanwhile, the well-documented negative environmental impacts on the California Delta continue on a very dangerous trajectory.

Why is State Water so expensive?

SWP contractors pay for their full allocation whether or not they receive any water. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) often sets and increases rates for State Water without public input. As an example, when Santa Barbara County agreed to connect to the SWP in 1991, the cost was assumed to be $270 million with 97% reliability. The actual cost has been $1.7 billion for, on average, only 28% of their allocation. Once dependent upon the State Water system, contractors are forever responsible for the costs associated with the maintenance and new infrastructure of the entire SWP system, including dams. Ratepayers have no direct input into these maintenance and infrastructural decisions. To make matters worse, DWR and the most powerful SWP contractors are separately seeking to change contract rules to make it easier to impose costs for new facilities, even when smaller contractors and the public oppose them. Too often, DWR and major contractors dominating the SWP system have sought to prioritize costly, environmentally damaging twentieth-century approaches to water reliability—dams, pipelines, tunnels and the like—at the expense of protected habitat, water quality, public trust resources, and sustainable local approaches better suited to the problems of the current century.

Ventura County needs more water. Where are we going to get it?

Close to home. That said, this is a question that districts all over the state are working hard to solve. Areas throughout California are beginning innovative strategies to secure local sources of water. The City of Santa Monica has reduced its consumptive use of water and is scheduled to be free of SWP imports by 2023—it will only have taken them 9 years.

Some history: In 1992, Ventura’s voters rejected interconnection to the SWP, and indicated they would prefer desalination to reliance on State Water. There has not been a vote since. Moreover, the potential for conservation and other local water resilience options has only grown in the years since that vote.

There are still significant supplies of water to be mined from conservation. Regional agency cooperation in the form of Joint Powers of Authority is already on the table in the Ojai Valley: partnering with the appropriate agencies would pool resources and broaden the scope of potential solutions. Smaller, regionally controlled reclamation and storm water capture infrastructure projects would be more efficient and timely, are often candidates for federal grants, and ratepayers would have a voice.