A local water district has proposed an ambitious plan to bring 1 million acre-feet of state water from Pyramid Lake near Interstate 5 to an underground water source on the Oxnard Plain.
The plan would halt seawater intrusion into the Oxnard Aquifer and build up a stable drinking supply in case of future drought, said Fred Gientke, United Water Conservation District general manager, the plan's architect.
"The beauty is that it will basically cost nothing. There's no multimillion-dollar construction costs. It's just release the water and put it in," Gientke said.
Two water districts and the city of Ventura pay $500,000 annually to maintain rights to 20,000 acre-feet of state water at Pyramid Lake, near Castaic off Interstate 5. However, they have no way to deliver the water to western Ventura County.
Gientke's proposal calls for the state to release water from Pyramid Lake. It would run down Piru Creek into Lake Piru and through the Santa Felicia Dam to the Santa Clara River. From there, it would flow down the now-dry Santa Clara riverbed and be diverted at Saticoy by the Freeman Diversion, a $20-million dam under construction that will channel river water into the Oxnard Aquifer to offset the intrusion of seawater caused by years of over-pumping by farmers.
County officials have long been concerned that water in the aquifer, about 20 miles below the Oxnard Plain near the Pacific Ocean, has been degraded by the influx of seawater. The Freeman Diversion was planned to channel 850,000 acre-feet of freshwater into the aquifer over a 50-year period. As the freshwater rises above sea level, it pushes the saltwater back into the ocean, Gientke says.
He estimates that bringing in state water will speed this process, stopping seawater intrusion in 10 to 20 years. More than 90% of the state water sent flowing down the stream beds will eventually be absorbed into the aquifer, Gientke says.
Others aren't so sure. Hydrologists at the county Public Works Department are concerned that much of the water might evaporate, seep into the ground along the way or lose its purity.
And the proposal, while still in the planning stage, has already drawn criticism from Ventura County Supervisor John K. Flynn, who represents Oxnard.
"I oppose doing it that way," Flynn said. "A pipeline is a much more efficient way to bring that water down. As it is now, United releases water from Lake Piru and only 10% reaches the aquifers."
Instead, Flynn supports construction of a $70- to $130-million pipeline to bring in the state water. He suggests that building costs be spread among west county cities and the different agencies involved.
Flynn also recommends that a steering committee composed of board members, City Council members and water agency officials be formed to study the issue.
United provides water to residents of Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Point Mugu, Port Hueneme and to agricultural growers in those areas. Seventy-five percent of its water is sold to farmers.
Meanwhile, Gientke has proposed a 2- to 4-year demonstration project that would move about 100 acre-feet a day through the proposed channels. He says the project could start in early 1990.
An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by one family each year. It would cover 1 acre of ground--the equivalent of a football field--to a depth of 1 foot.
Eventually, Gientke wants the state Department of Water Resources and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to store almost 1 million acre-feet of water in the Oxnard Aquifer.
'Looking All Over the Place'
Jay Malinowski, a MWD spokesman, says his agency is studying Gientke's proposal and expects to have a report ready by November. The MWD is concerned that earthquakes or droughts could shut off water supplies from the California Aqueduct, the route by which state water reaches Southern California.
"We're looking all over the place for ground-water storage in Southern California. It's one of the critical issues of the 1990s," Malinowski said. He added that the Oxnard Aquifer poses an attractive alternative to building a dam because it is less environmentally hazardous and there are no construction costs.
Recently, for instance, the state spent nearly $33 million to buy 20,000 acres of land near Bakersfield to obtain the right to store more than 1 million acre-feet of surplus water in aquifers, Gientke says.
The conservation district official says the extra water flowing into Lake Piru--which is only 25% full--could turn the area into a large recreational lake with boating and fishing. He also envisions that hydroelectric plants could be built in Piru Creek and the upper reaches of the Santa Clara River to harness the energy of the flowing waters.
In addition, "it would be possible to re-establish the Santa Clara River as a habitat not only for marine life but for wildlife," Gientke said.
The MWD first considered sending water to the Oxnard Aquifer via the Santa Clara River in the mid-1970s, but the proposal never got off the ground because officials were concerned that the process might lower water quality and lead to evaporation.
Today, "there's a far more pressing need for storage now than in the '70s," Malinowski said. "Water treatment processes are more efficient. We know more about water quality."