THOUSAND OAKS — The water district serving most of east Ventura County has begun to study building a $50-million pipeline from Simi Valley to the Pacific Ocean that officials hope will improve the quality of water used by farmers and open up new and cheaper supplies of drinking water for residents.
Calleguas Municipal Water District officials said the 30-mile pipeline would carry salt discharges from yet-to-be-built treatment plants in the east county. Those facilities could extract the salt from ground water and creek water, said Don Kendall, Calleguas general manager. The line could also carry treated waste water from five sewage plants along Calleguas Creek, he said.
The "brine line"--the first of its kind in Ventura County--would help ensure reliable future supplies of drinking water while complying with new federal mandates on salt content, district officials said.
"The only way to successfully meet some of the new regulations coming from the Environmental Protection Agency will be the installation of a brine line, which would benefit everyone in Ventura County," said Ted Grandsen, president of the Calleguas board of directors.
Money for the pipeline system would come mostly from federal and state sources, such as allocations from the recently passed Proposition 13. Fees paid by pipeline users could help pay for it, too, Grandsen said.
Local farmers and environmentalists said they support the water district's effort.
"I feel pretty strongly that we need it," said Sam McIntyre, owner of Somis Pacific Ag near Moorpark. He said crops--especially avocados and strawberries--absorb the salt and dry out, causing production to drop. High salt content in Calleguas Creek "is a very serious problem for agriculture and it needs to be cleaned up," he said.
John Buse, a lawyer at the Environmental Defense Center in Ventura, said although his group has some concerns about protecting stream resources in the watershed, the pipeline could help achieve water-quality goals.
"We think there are ways to do the project and respect the natural environment," he said.
The Calleguas watershed is made up of a system of arroyos and creeks that shuttle runoff and sewage treatment plant discharges from eastern Ventura County through Camarillo and into Mugu Lagoon.
A history of agricultural use and a naturally salty environment have hurt the quality of the area's ground water, so nearly all of the drinking water comes from Northern California.
That, coupled with population growth in Ventura County and Southern California, means the water supply will dwindle and be more expensive unless changes are made. More than 10,000 acre-feet of ground water resources remain untapped in the east county, largely because of its high salt content.
Kendall called the pipeline the key link to better using local supplies through desalination. Without it, there is no cost-effective way to dispose of salty waste, he said.
While no treatment plants have been approved by local cities, Kendall said he is confident they would fall into place once the pipeline is complete. Although each desalination plant could cost $10 million to $30 million to build, in the long run it would be cheaper than buying imported water, Kendall said.
"I think we're of the adage, 'Build it and they will come,' " he said. "Brine lines are being used in Orange County and Los Angeles, and we need one in Ventura County."
The Camrosa Water Reclamation Facility in Camarillo would be the first agency to discharge salty water into the pipeline, Calleguas officials said. Camrosa plans to build a desalination plant using electrodialysis reversal technology in conjunction with completion of the brine line.
Simi Valley Assistant City Manager Laura Magelnicki said the city is interested in partnering with Calleguas and said the pipeline "has potential to solve some real water-quality issues in the region."
In Thousand Oaks--one of the few cities in the district that relies solely on outside drinking water supplies--officials are always mindful of becoming more self-sufficient.
"We've been so supportive of this concept because it allows us to control our destiny locally rather than be at the mercy of others," said Thousand Oaks Public Works Director Don Nelson.
The project will also study whether the pipeline--which would include a number of arms connecting to different cities before merging with an existing ocean outfall at Ormond Beach--could redirect discharges from sewage treatment plants.
That is more controversial, Kendall said. Some environmentalists fear Calleguas Creek could dry up if sewage plant discharges--which make up about 90% of the flow--are diverted through the pipeline. Water consistently running in the creek bed is necessary for the survival of several endangered plants and animals.
Regional water quality boards are also adopting new standards for chloride discharges, regulations that have the potential to pinch ratepayers.
Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels, who also chairs the Calleguas Creek Watershed Management Committee, said the pipeline may alleviate many of the economic and environmental issues in the watershed.
If the project is found feasible, she said, "it'll be a significant step for the future of the county."
The deadline for public comments on the notice of preparation for the proposed pipeline project is Dec. 1. Letters should be sent to Eric Bergh at Calleguas Municipal Water District, 2100 Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360-6800.