Ventura City Council approves water plan, huge increase anticipated

by Richard Lieberman

At a recent meeting of the Ventura City Council a plan to make sewage plant output to bring wastewater to drinking level standards was approved. The council approved a $200 million plan to obtain more drinking water for the city and reduce the amount of sewage water released into the Santa Clara River estuary.

The $200 million plus plan will be used to build a new plant that will take wastewater once slated to be emptied into the estuary and treat it to drinking water standards. After treating the wastewater, it will be injected into the City’s underground wells. Once injected the treated water will be mixed with the City’s underground wells. The water will then be pumped from the wells and become part of the City’s drinking water. The water will be treated by the usual treatment process for drinking water.

Known as “indirect potable reuse” the process is already in use in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Commonly known as “toilet to tap” which refers to using treated wastewater as drinking water without putting it into the ground first. In 2015 a small pilot project was tried in Ventura. The current plan calls for adding direct potable use after 2030.

The council passed the plan unanimously but will still need a variety of new permits based on various environmental groups including Heal the Bay and Wishtoyo foundation.

The two mentioned environmental groups sued the city in 2010 based on the damage treated wastewater was doing to the estuary at the mouth of the Santa Clara River.

“A lot of voices came together on this,” former councilman Brian Brennan told the council, as he urged the council to approve the project. “I know a lawsuit and a settlement kind of forced this down this road, but a lot of people came together and came up with solutions.”

Currently the city releases approximately 7.4 million gallons of treated water per day into the estuary. In 2025 when the plant comes on-line the amount of water distributed to the estuary will dramatically be reduced and should be down to 1.9 million gallons per day. The city further plans to reduce the estuary discharge to less than 500,000 gallons per day by 2030.

Ventura has enough water in normal years, but during drought periods, demand exceeds supply by as much as 30%.

According to a consultant’s report, the new treatment plant cost $190 million to $206 million to build, including the cost of additional wetlands protection and a pipeline to carry brine into the ocean, but not including the price of the land. Operating the plant will cost an additional $5.6 million per year from 2025 through 2029 and $6.7 million per year starting in 2030.

The city is looking into federal grants for about $20 million of the cost, the rest will come from water bills or other city funds. Susan Rungren, the general manager of the city’s water department, said she would return to the council at a future meeting with a funding plan.

“This is a huge project, “councilman Jim Friedman said. “It’s momentous from a cost standpoint. We need to prepare the ratepayers for what we are looking at. The cost of water is definitely an issue, and if it’s an issue now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

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