2006-12-08 / Front Page

Districts pool resources for massive water program

By Michelle Knight knight@theacorn.com

Water travels downhill. It's a simple concept that's the basis for a cooperative approach to water conservation and recycling that agencies in Thousand Oaks and Camarillo are taking to meet stricter state water recycling guidelines.

The Camrosa Water District, the Camarillo Sanitation District and the city of Thousand Oaks plan to embark on a $30 million fourphase project called the Renewable Water Resource Management Program.

The program will allow the districts to share pipe connections and to upgrade water facilities to make better recycled water for agricultural use.

The three districts said their mutual goals are to reduce reliance on pricey imported water, lower the amount of salt in underground water basins and make better use of recycled water.

When completed, the program will save the districts 20 million gallons per day of imported water, about 12 million gallons of recycled water for irrigation and nearly 8 million gallons of drinking water from two desalt treatment plants.

Camrosa customers use an average of 40 million gallons of water every day-about 80 percent of it imported.

The joint program fits into the district's master plan of keeping its dependence on imported water flat even though the area is projected to grow 1.5 percent annually over the next 25 years, General Manager Richard Hajas said.

In the planning stage for the last five years, the program reached the design phase in October.

Since the 1960s, growth in the area and a lack of groundwater has meant most residents use water imported from Northern California.

But over the years, the water has left salt deposits that have spread, contaminating underground basins and making the water unsuitable for drinking or agricultural use.

The end result of this contamination is a further dependency on imported water.

Once the pipelines are connected and facilities at wastewater treatment plants are improved and producing better quality water useful for landscaping and farming, the agencies can sell water to one another and reduce the amount they buy from the county supplier, Calleguas Municipal Water District.

Hajas said the supply will be more stable than that of imported water, which is vulnerable to California's inevitable droughts.

In Thousand Oaks, water produced from the Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant eventually flows downhill to the Conejo Creek in Camarillo and out to the ocean.

Some of the water is used by Camrosa for its agricultural customers.

That will change when Camrosa and Thousand Oaks connect pipelines and Camrosa can use more of the water.

Joint partnership among the neighboring water districts has allowed all three to benefit from pooled resources.

"The lone ranger, go-it-alone idea is a thing of the past," Thousand Oaks Deputy Public Works Director Jay Spurgin said.

"Ultimately the result will be (that) we can reduce our reliance on imported water. We can only do that when we work together as agencies in a region," he said.

Spurgin said that by establishing cooperation and a network of connected pipelines now, the three agencies will be in a position to meet stricter state water quality regulations in the future.

Lucie McGovern, Spurgin's counterpart for the city of Camarillo, said the water system will allow ratepayers to save money on their sewer bills in the long run. She said the partnership means sewer rates are likely to go up 8 percent a year instead of 300 percent.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the new water system will be large farms, especially those that are Camrosa customers.

McGovern said their goal is to collect and provide high quality recycled water to be used by residents and farms for irrigation.

The Camrosa water district has over the last eight years been installing a dual plumbing system to deliver two grades of water-potable water for drinking and water for landscaping uses such as lawns, golf courses and farms. The twopiped system was installed in Village at the Park and construction is underway in Leisure Village.

A cutback on imported water for irrigation means a reduction in the amount of salt brought in.

To further decrease salt concentrations in groundwater, Camrosa plans to build desalting facilities in the Santa Rosa Valley and at a well near California State University at Channel Islands.

The plants will connect to a brine line to be built by Calleguas to take groundwater salts out to the ocean.

When up and running, the two plants will produce millions of gallons of highquality drinking water.

The plant near the university alone will produce 1 million gallons of drinking water a day from the well, giving the university and nearby houses another source of water should the only pipeline shut down.

Back when the state hospital occupied the university grounds, the well provided plenty of drinking water, but years of salt buildup and population growth have exhausted the supply.

An added bonus of the program is that by pumping out water in underground basins, rainwater-free and surprisingly pure-can become a source.

Although Southern California normally receives a small amount of rainfall, in the last 10 years the area has received more than usual, Hajas said.

"And we really haven't had any benefit from it; it all went into the ocean," he said.

The three agencies say the program will allow their rates to remain fairly steady despite interruptions to the imported water supply.

The price of imported water has tripled since 1990 and indications are the cost will continue to rise at a relatively fast pace, Hajas said.

After start-up costs, the program's only major expenses will be the cost of energy to run the pumps and inflation, he said.

"So this should stabilize rates. That's what we're trying to do-stabilize rates and save water," Hajas said.

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