California is in a water crisis

What’s Happening?

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The rain and snow in December were not enough to fill regional storage and a web of state-level policies limits the amount of imported water that can flow out of the Delta. As a result, our imported water suppliers—the Department of Water Resources, Metropolitan Water District, and Calleguas Municipal Water District—do not have sufficient supplies to meet regular demands through the rest of the year.

We expect our suppliers to issue conservation mandates by the end of April and anticipate that irrigating residential lawns will be limited to one day a week.

The concept they’re promoting is that the more we conserve now, the longer we can put off more drastic mandates. In the meantime, during the current water crisis, we appreciate your help to reduce water use as much as possible.

How Did We Get Here?

Drought is nothing new to California.

Cycles of hydrologic scarcity are a feature of our state, as is the fact that most of us want to live where there’s the least amount of rain. This realization drove the construction of the large water projects of the 20th Century. The State and Federal Water Projects, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and the Colorado River Aqueduct were all built to “move the rain” from mountainous regions of the West, where it is stored as snow, to farmers, homes, and businesses in the Central Valley and Southern California, where people flocked after the Second World War. The cities of Camarillo, Moorpark, Simi Valley, and Thousand Oaks were all incorporated only after State Water Project contracts were signed and city founders knew there would be a reliable source of water to grow on.

For four decades, it was reliable. As much Sierra snowmelt as we could use made its way through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, down the California Aqueduct, over the Tehachapis, and out to us, via Metropolitan and Calleguas Municipal Water Districts. There were droughts then, too, of course, but the system had storage to carry us through these dry spells. And as the population grew, we built more—in the 1980s and 1990s, the region invested over $5 billion in surface storage to prolong our ability to continue serving water in a drought.

In the first decade of the 21st Century, two major shifts began to threaten that ability. Changes in the climate started to reduce the amount of snow that accumulates in some years and a series of regulatory actions and judicial rulings slashed the amount of snowmelt that we were allowed to move south. Department of Water Resources releases have averaged less than half of contracted amounts over the last 15 years. There hasn’t been a 100-percent allocation since before the infamous Judge Wanger ruling on Delta smelt in 2006. This is not for lack of snow: despite a banner year in 2017 of 183 percent of normal, DWR was only able to fulfill 85 percent of its contracts. This year, for the second year in a row, we’re only receiving five percent—a first since the project was constructed in the 1960s.

Things are dire. It will be a dry summer. The District—and the region—need your help to get through it.

But things shouldn’t be this way.

What Have We Been Doing?

The Camrosa Water District Board of Directors saw, after the major drought of the 1980s, that relying on precipitation to solve our drought problem was a losing proposition. They realized earlier than most that conservation costs money and determined that it should be only an option of last resort, a tool to be used in a time of crisis—like today—but not a lifestyle.

To make that happen, we needed to control our water resources, and in the 1990s, the District stepped up its development of local supplies to wean us off of imported water. Camrosa is fortunately situated geographically: we overlie three groundwater basins and sit along the watercourse that drains the Conejo Valley—which, since the 1960s, has been a perennial stream, thanks to the discharge from the City of Thousand Oaks’ wastewater treatment plant. But it took the foresight of District leadership to make the investments to turn those natural resources into dependable alternatives to imported water.

You can read about these alternatives on our Water Systems page, but the long story short is that we’ve made great strides: in 1997, the District imported 87 percent of the water it produced; in 2018, that number had shrunk to 25, thanks in large part to the Conejo Creek Diversion Project and the Round Mountain Water Treatment Plant, our one-million-gallon-a-day brackish groundwater desalination facility.

Since then, we’ve built another well, adjacent to an existing well at Woodcreek Park (the site is still being completed but the well has been producing since September 2020) and are doing work to increase production capacity at two others. Once construction of the treatment plant we’re building at the Conejo Wellfield, the District’s largest producing local resource, is complete and the Wellfield is returned to service, we’ll be producing more local water than ever.

What Are We Doing Next?

Starting in May, the District is embarking on an update to its Strategic Plan. We expect that charting a course to be completely self-reliant and independent of the State Water Project will be the cornerstone of our future planning.

It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be cheap, but with the cost of imported water going up every year, the math on every conceivable local project is looking better all the time. And a future where our supply portfolio is so diverse that we no longer have to depend on imported water is a future in which our customers no longer have to conserve to accommodate the state’s infrastructure failures and policy mistakes.