By Chris Frost
Oxnard—The conversation about groundwater in the basin and higher pumping fees for Oxnard continues with an interview with Glenn Shepard and Kim Loeb who answer questions about the issue moving forward and how it will affect the Oxnard sub-basin.
Cities can expect considerable pumping fee increases per acre-feet of water, and that can have far-reaching effects on the local economy as the basin tries to reach sustainability.
Loeb said there is a difference between paying a pumping fee and paying for groundwater.
"There are water purveyors that provide the water," he said.
For context, he said Fox Canyon was formed by the legislature in 1982, due to the continued over-pumping in the basin and seawater intrusion into the Oxnard aquifer that came in and contaminated freshwater aquifers.
"Fox Canyon was established to help manage the pumping, so that's what we do," he said. "We allocate and regulate the pumping. We don't sell water. People don't buy water, but there is a charge within Fox Canyon's jurisdiction, and that charge is currently $12.50 an acre-foot. That's not a charge for the water. That's a charge for the extraction to fund our management activities, oversight, and administration costs."
Since the sustainable groundwater management act (GMA) was passed in 2014 and came into effect in 2015, it added a new layer of state regulations on top of Fox Canyon's water management.
"It is also the groundwater sustainability agency under the SGMA regulations," he said. "That's why we are putting together these groundwater sustainability plans because under SGMA the groundwater basins that are designated critically over-drafted. That includes Oxnard and Pleasant Valley, which are al hydraulically connected."
Fox Canyon must bring them into sustainability within 20 years.
"Reductions in pumping will occur in that 20-year-period, as well as investigation and feasibility analysis of projects, new water supply, infrastructure, and pipelines to optimize the management of the basin," he said. "So we can minimize the amount of pumping reductions required at the end of those 20 years."
Loeb said pumping at the coast is the most impactful item in the seawater intrusion.
"Pumping anywhere in the Oxnard plain and west Las Posas Valley, all the water is interconnected," he said. "Even though the water molecules may not flow that far, as you pump, it reduces the pressure and causes a landward gradient. The closer you are to the coast, the more significant that impact is. We're managing the entire groundwater basin because pumping anywhere in the basin will affect the seawater intrusion."
He pointed to the Magu and Hueneme Canyons, which are natural features and deep canyons.
"That's where the aquifers are exposed under the sea and the easiest place for seawater intrusion, when the water levels are below sea level to flow into the aquifers in the basin," he said.
Loeb is always cognoscente of the economic impacts stemming from management actions.
"We're required by the state to manage to sustainability," he said. "Our focus and efforts will be on achieving sustainable groundwater management with the least amount of economic impact that is feasible. Once we adopt the groundwater sustainability plan at the end of the year, the next step will be regional feasibility studies and looking at large scale projects with our partner agencies."
Cities that look to state water to stem the lack of pumping fees need to be ready to spend approximately $1,500 per acre-foot.
"The agencies, the GMA (groundwater management agency) and the other GSA in the county and the state; they are not economy killers," he said. "The mindful are trying to keep the cost low because of the pumpers are paying the cost if they are on the agricultural side. Municipalities are paying the cost per acre-foot to have the GSAs and GMAs."
Bottom line, Loeb said getting to sustainability over the next 20 years is going to cost money.
"There is going to be some balance between the investment the stakeholders are willing to take on large scale projects and reductions in pumping," he said. "We have to work to facilitate that conversation to find that balance and move forward. There's no doubt, as we move forward in the future throughout this state, water is going to become more expensive."
Moving forward, Loeb said there are a lot of efforts in progress to improve efficiency.
"Right now, the way the allocations that Fox Canyon has implemented for our emergency ordinance for agriculture requires growers to demonstrate that their irrigation practices are efficient," he said. "That's how their allocations are set, by the efficiency of their allocations."
Fox Canyon is a separate agency, he said, but Ventura County is getting a grant from the state to make agricultural water use efficiency studies.
"It helps pay for implementation, so that is an ongoing grant project going on," he said. "In the urban water areas, they constantly work with customers to help conserve their water. They have programs for water efficiency retrofits. We don't have any direct customers because we are not a direct purveyor. That information is out there, but we do support that wherever we can."
This story will continue on Oct. 4.