The Casitas Municipal Water District, which supplies about 50,000 residents of the Ojai Valley and part of Ventura, is considering loaning water to five Santa Barbara County agencies hit hard by the drought.
But the district, in conjunction with the city of Ventura and the United Water Conservation District, still fears a long-term water shortage and continues to discuss plans for building a $120-million pipeline to hook into the state water system.
Five water districts in southern Santa Barbara County have asked to borrow between 1,000 and 2,500 acre-feet of Casitas water in the face of dwindling reserves in Lake Cachuma, which supplies them. The five are the Goleta, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria water districts and the city of Santa Barbara.
While the same drought has affected Ventura County, the Casitas district can afford to make a short-term loan from Lake Casitas because its reserves could last through a 19-year dry period, John Johnson, the district's general manager, said this week.
'They Get Full Use'
"In a sense, it isn't a cost to anybody," Johnson said. "They get full use of it and then we get full use of it."
However, the five members of the Casitas board of trustees want more information and some strict guidelines before any agreement is made, Johnson said.
The transfer must be contracted as a loan--not a sale--with a substantial financial deposit to ensure that the water will be repaid within five years, Johnson said.
In addition, the Casitas trustees would request an environmental impact report from the districts, and apply for a permit from the state Water Resources Control Board, which controls such water exchanges.
Johnson described the loan as an emergency measure, not a means to increase development in Santa Barbara County.
"There's some concern that more water equals more growth, but we don't want to be involved in that discussion," he said. "If they're in dire straits, having to go through a real emergency, we want to help them out."
Under the loan, water would be pumped from Casitas to the Carpinteria district, where an existing connection allows Casitas to service a small area.
Carpinteria would use the Casitas water and transfer its water rights from Lake Cachuma to the remaining four districts.
The Santa Barbara County districts, which serve 170,000 people, are expected to submit a proposal to the board next week, said Jane Turner, general manager of the Goleta district.
Six districts depend on Lake Cachuma as a major source of potable water, said Jim Stubchaer, consultant manager of the Santa Barbara Water Purveyors Agency.
The lake, down to about one-third of its capacity, is designed to handle a seven-year critical drought period. The area is in its sixth drought year.
No Reliable Forecast
"If the current drought lasts one more year, we're all right," Stubchaer said. "The problem is we can't see into the future. There's no such thing as a reliable weather forecast."
Allocations to the six districts were reduced by 20% beginning in the spring. If this winter does not deliver enough rain, a 40% reduction will be considered, he said.
The impact on the six districts differs according to what other sources of water--such as ground water or privately owned reservoirs--are available.
The Goleta district, which gets two-thirds of its drinking water from Cachuma, imposed mandatory rationing enforced by strict fines in May.
Cut Use 21%
While residents have managed to cut their use by about 21%, they face more stringent reductions if the district cannot find water, Turner said.
Johnson said the Casitas district may actually benefit from a loan, because the other districts would repay the loans in full. Normally, Casitas loses 2% to 3% of its water a year through evaporation, he said.
In addition, he said, the loan would have no effect on Casitas' attempts to construct a 45-mile pipeline to Lake Castaic to sustain future needs in the city of Ventura, where the population is expected to reach 115,000 by the year 2010.
Since 1963, Casitas, Ventura and the United Water Conservation District have paid $1.4 million a year to maintain rights to draw water from the state system.
Ventura has tried to save water with an ordinance enacted in March that prohibits excessive landscape watering, hosing down sidewalks and driveways, washing cars without a nozzle on the hose and ornamental fountains that do not recycle water.
First-time offenders get a written warning. Repeat offenders get fines ranging from 25% to 50% of their most recent bimonthly water bill.
The city, half of which is supplied by the Casitas district, probably won't be affected by the loan plan, Ventura Water Supt. John R. Mundy said.
"I think in the short term, I don't see it as an issue," he said.