by Matt LaVere, Mayor, City of San Buenaventura
The City of Ventura and its water customers have relied on the Ventura River as a primary source of drinking water for more than a century. Today, however, the region’s water supply is changing as the Ventura River watershed faces new, complex challenges. To protect our local water resources and safeguard the watershed for the future, we must change our approach to managing it now.
Statewide drought conditions and the impacts of climate change have created shifts in our watershed and a strain on our region’s already limited water supply. At the same time, the demand for water is increasing as the Ventura River watershed’s users are multiplying. Coupled together, these factors have placed the watershed under increased pressure and at risk.
As long-standing environmental stewards, the City of Ventura has proactively made conservation a way of life by reducing our water use and investing in drought resilient programs such as recycled water, infrastructure upgrades, water-efficient best practices and diversification of our supply portfolio. Today, Ventura’s water customers use 30% less water than they did 20 years ago, despite reasonable population growth. I’m incredibly proud of this track record and our impressive progress. But the reality is – we need to do more to protect and preserve the watershed, and we can’t do it alone. The City represents only a small portion of the total water used by more than 100 agencies, businesses, farmers and individuals who also use the watershed.
In 2014, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, a non-profit environmental organization, filed a lawsuit seeking to curtail the City’s water rights limiting its use of the Ventura River – one element of the interconnected watershed we all rely on. While we understand the overarching concern of diminishing water supplies and its impact on both our community and vital habitats for species like the steelhead trout, the original suit from Channelkeeper is not a viable path forward. The litigation arbitrarily targets just one user, the City of Ventura, to shoulder the responsibility for hundreds of other water users and focuses solely on one source of water, the Ventura River. Simply put – it’s an ineffective and short-sighted solution, and we need a better one.
The City of Ventura is proposing a long-term solution to protect the watershed and those who depend on it. By collaborating with all the local water interests, evaluating the entire interconnected system holistically and determining the legal water rights of each user, we can ensure that these complex challenges are addressed in a comprehensive and enforceable way.
As Mayor, I believe if we work together, we can build on our existing framework that not only safeguards our water future but also protects the precious ecosystems in the Ventura River watershed. The City remains committed to a locally-driven and collaborative approach that protects, properly manages and sustains the watershed to do just that.