Rejecting arguments that a state water pipeline is cheaper, Ventura voters on Tuesday told city leaders they prefer construction of a seawater desalination plant to guarantee future water supplies.
The upset victory for desalination forces in an advisory vote on Measure O came despite official estimates by a city report that desalination would cost an extra $6.2 million a year. Supporters argued that a desalination plant can be expanded indefinitely and gives the city complete control without dependence on the state or on Northern California rainfall.
Although the measure is non-binding, a majority of the seven-member City Council have said they will abide by the wishes of the voters.
"Water independence is a far bigger issue than people realize," said Steve Bennett, a schoolteacher and desalination proponent. "People in Ventura don't want to get embroiled in state water politics."
In Santa Paula, voters were also deciding on Measure P, which bans rent increases on mobile home lots when a coach is sold.
Measure O in Ventura asked voters whether the city should build a pipeline to bring in 9,000 acre-feet of water a year at an annual cost of $24.2 million, or whether the city should build a desalination plant that would produce 7,000 acre-feet of water a year at an annual cost of $30.4 million.
Desalination supporters said a plant would provide an almost unlimited source of water that could be expanded to meet future needs. In addition, a desalination plant avoids dependence on Northern California rainfall and state water politics and can be counted on for full delivery during drought.
State water supporters argued that the California Aqueduct delivered all of the water demanded during the first four years of drought, and did not have to cut deliveries until 1991 and 1992. In addition, they said, state water costs less.
Voters questioned as they left polling places Tuesday were divided on the issue, as city leaders have been since the discussions began. There were no clear divisions along party, age or professional lines.
Anne Kaness, a 61-year-old schoolteacher and registered Republican, said she voted for desalination because the state water system is already overtapped. "I'm for self-containment," she said.
Nathan Winton, 18, a Ventura College student and a registered Libertarian, said he fears a desalination plant would pollute the ocean. "It wouldn't look very good to have a plant along the coast, either," he said.
Some voters said the ballot measure was poorly worded and should have allowed a "no" vote on any new source of water.