While we aren’t “officially” in a drought (yet), the latest decline in precipitation in California has become a local problem, rather than just another state-wide issue.

Cities throughout Southern California are looking for solutions to current and future water shortages, knowing they can’t depend on the state for solutions. While we have passed two water bonds in the past three years and are looking at another one to go before the voters in November, there seems to be a disconnect between the state getting money and the state giving money to local agencies to solve their water problems.

Cities like Carlsbad and Huntington Beach are trying to supplement their existing supply of potable water by filtering water from the Pacific through billion dollar desalination plants.

Other cities, like Ventura, are looking to increase its water supply and ensure it has sufficient backup during times of extreme drought by more inexpensive means—connecting to the State Water Project or embarking on a large-scale recycling system.

But, on Monday, July 9, the Ventura City Council punted, deciding to put the recycled water project on hold. Their reasons—no other California city is doing it, the science behind it isn’t clear, and most significantly, there aren’t any State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) regulations governing it.

So with that in mind, the city council signaled it’s more comfortable pursuing “indirect potable reuse” to repurpose millions of gallons of treated wastewater that used to be discharged into the Santa Clara River Estuary—which means a lot of purple pipe will be needed in Ventura.

The city is under a court order to bring the amount of water it puts into the estuary down to a trickle—500,000 gallons per day. What to do with the other six million gallons is something water officials have been working on since the consent decree between Ventura and four environmental organizations became effective in 2012. The groups had sued, arguing the discharge was damaging to the existing habitat.

This is another case where the state is of little help. The State Water Resources Control Board says it is “hoping” research on recycled water is completed by 2021 or 2022, at which point regulations could be developed. That would still allow Ventura to go that route if it later decides to reuse recycled water. The infrastructure to handle either would be the same.

In the meantime, Ventura plans to hook up with the State Water Project by 2022. Either way, ECA contractors stand ready to help, both with planning and construction.

By Wes May ECA Executive Director
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