Support for proposed water and wastewater rate changes

Sandy Smith sat on the City Council for eight years.

by Sandy Smith former mayor, City of Ventura

Residents and rate payers in the City of Ventura should support Ventura Water’s proposed water and wastewater rate changes, scheduled for City Council review and approval in March 2021. These rate adjustments fund critical investments needed to provide safe and reliable water and wastewater services for the City of Ventura’s customers now and into the future.

During the eight years I sat on the City Council, I served as the City and Council’s representative on the Association of Water Agencies of Ventura County, and for many years, as that Agency’s Vice President. Over those years, I recall how smug I often felt in the knowledge that water from Lake Casitas, the Ventura River, and our ground water wells allowed our City to avoid many of the challenges other communities faced accessing and distributing water to their residents. That independence also allowed residents to benefit from lower water and sewer rates than faced by other communities.

Those days are behind us. Due to a variety of factors, water from Lake Casitas, the Ventura River, and our ground water wells can no longer be looked at as a long-term solution to our water needs. More frequent and prolonged droughts have put Ventura’s 100% local water sources at risk. Add to that the results of ongoing litigation that will likely limit or reduce the amount of water the City can withdraw from the Ventura River, which currently accounts for roughly 20 percent of Ventura’s water supply.

Further limits on Ventura’s water supply will materialize as the City is required to comply with a series of environmental regulations and legal mandates, including reducing wastewater discharge into the Santa Clara River Estuary. Ultimately, ratepayers will inherit costly fines if these requirements are not met. Additionally, water supplied by regional groundwater basins is high in total dissolved solids and sulfates, making Ventura’s drinking water hard and minerally.

Innovative solutions are needed to secure a future sustainable water supply. VenturaWaterPure, the long-anticipated potable reuse project, will divert water that is currently discharged to the Santa Clara River Estuary to a new advanced purification facility where it will be purified to drinking water standards and injected into local groundwater basins, creating a locally owned drought-resistant water supply for the City of Ventura.

The City has long paid for a 10,000 acre-foot of water per year allocation from the California State Water Project without the benefit of receiving water, and to date, the City has not constructed the improvements necessary to receive direct delivery of its allocation. Ventura’s State Water Interconnection Project will enable delivery of state water by wheeling through Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Calleguas Municipal Water District to the City. The connection will also provide the added benefit of direct or in-lieu delivery of state water to the Casitas Municipal Water District.

At the same time, much of Ventura’s water and wastewater infrastructure is over 60 years old. Deteriorating pipelines, pump stations, and facilities need replacement, and deferring the costs of those needed improvements and upgrades to a later date comes at a higher price.

While I am aware that an annual increase of 7% for water service and 6% for wastewater service is significant, deferring project costs and upgrades only delays necessary improvements. Ultimately, I believe the recommended rate adjustments to be responsible, fair and equitable. Even with the proposed rates, the City of Ventura compares favorably with the rate structures of other cities.

Simply stated there is no alternative. Water is life – not only for us as human beings, but for our economy. For me, it’s a simple decision: Ventura’s residents should support, and Ventura’s Council should approve, a fair level of water rates that can finance the projects needed to ensure our water supply and infrastructure allow our community to evolve without impediment, and as we choose.

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