So here is what we all know: We are in our third year of drought. California experienced its driest year on record in 2013. On January 17, Governor Brown officially proclaimed a “State of Emergency” due to drought conditions. Brown called on all Californians to reduce their water usage and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to alleviate drought impacts.
Here is what you might not have paid much attention to unless you are a farmer, involved with an industry that uses a lot of water, or a water lawyer: In November, the California
Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced an initial allocation of only five percent of requested deliveries to state water project contractors in calendar year 2014.
Then, on January 31, after measuring the northern Sierra snowpack at 6 percent of average, DWR announced a reduction in the State Water Project annual allocation from five percent to zero. That is unprecedented. No state water project water at all in 2014.
What is the scary part?
Roughly three quarters of Ventura County residents use water purchased by their retail purveyors from the Calleguas Municipal Water District’s distribution system. Never heard of Calleguas? Calleguas’ primary job is importing and distributing water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which is water that arrives via the State Water Project from Northern
California. If roughly three quarters of Ventura County residents get their water from the State Water Project and that spigot has just turned off for the year, what does that mean for our clients in Ventura County?
Ventura County does not have access to Colorado River water, so that is not anoption. Do the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Calleguas have stored water? Yes. Will Ventura have access to that stored water? Yes. Have our local water agencies prepared for drought. Yes. I am told that over the past 20 years, we “So-Cal folk” have invested more than $5
billion in regional storage, infrastructure improvements, and water conservation programs.
Is that the complete answer to the problem? Unfortunately, it’s not. No matter what we do with local storage, conservation, infrastructure and recycling, Ventura’s farmers, industries and cities can’t sustain themselves without the State Water Project water. We just don’t have enough water. So we in Ventura County, as well as our similarly situated neighbors to the North and theSouth, have to do more.
What do the water agencies say? The Natural Resources Section of the Ventura County Bar Association and Barristers are hosting a seminar featuring Susan Mulligan, the General Manager of the Calleguas Municipal Water District, on March 19 at the VCBA offices. Susan recently returned from a meeting with Governor Brown and will speak on the topic of “Ventura County’s
Water Supply Vulnerability and How to Fix It.” She will discuss the drought, her meeting with Governor Brown, local efforts to diversify supplies, and trends in the cost and availability of water in the future, as well as the proposed plan to repair problems in the Sacramento Bay Delta.
This will be an excellent opportunity for lawyers and their interested and affected clients to obtain relevant information directly from the source.
Gisele Goetz is a natural resources lawyer and a mediator. She chairs the Natural Resources Section of the Ventura County Bar Association.