For decades, “self-reliance” has been the watchword at Camrosa. But what does that mean?
And why is it so important?
As a special district, Camrosa has one responsibility: to deliver the water its customers need, safely, reliably, and affordably. Any number of factors can complicate that mission—we manage water in a part of the state that had very little demand a hundred years ago—and it’s our job to ensure that “complicate” doesn’t become “compromise.”
A DIVERSIFIED PORTFOLIO
Similar to financial assets, we protect against impacts to our water-supply resources by diversifying our supply portfolio. In the context of southeastern Ventura County, supplies are generally divided into two main buckets: imported water and local water. While imported water from Northern California is an important part of our portfolio (about half our drinking water supply and a third overall), it is outside our sphere of influence; we’ll always be at the mercy of factors over which we have no control, such as weather, rate-setting by other agencies, and infrastructure demands. To offset this, Camrosa has invested more than $30 million in ratepayer and grant funds over the last 20 years to develop local projects and infrastructure that transfer demand from imported water to water we produce right here, in our own backyard.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve reduced our reliance on imported water from being 85 percent of our water portfolio to just about one-third of our total supply (potable and non-potable). But despite its vulnerabilities, the State Water Project is a massive system upon which two thirds of the state relies for drinking water, so there is significant incentive to keep it operable and secure. Local resources are cheaper and within our sphere of control, but they too are ultimately subject to the whims of nature, and to disconnect from the State Water Project altogether would risk being entirely dependent on local resources—that old eggs-in-a-single-basket thing.
And although it’s the most expensive source of drinking water, imported water is also, aside from the RMWTP, the highest-quality water we produce. The technology exists to treat local water to match the quality of imported water, but it would make the two waters similar in cost. In fact, Camrosa could, in theory, turn every drop of water we produce into perfectly pure, deionized H20, but those drops would be prohibitively expensive. It is the philosophy of our Board and district to balance quality and cost, and it is our ability to blend imported water with local groundwater that allows us to do just that.
Potable (drinking) water
The District’s largest operating expense is the cost of imported water via the State Water Project (SWP). Between the unpredictability of supply and the unreliability of the conveyance system, it is also the District’s biggest vulnerability.
The SWP moves water from the Sierra Nevada Region through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, providing water to 25 million Californians and about 750,000 acres of farmland. That water originates as precipitation and snowmelt, which can vary greatly from year to year. Within the Delta, a patchwork levee system that is far from seismically sound, multiplying regulations, imminent legislation, and ongoing litigation all threaten to limit the amount of water that ends up in the California Aqueduct and on its way to our area. Transporting this water involves 400 miles of open canal, 100 miles of pipeline—both crisscrossing numerous geological faults—and three large public bureaucracies, each of which has the ability to reduce deliveries to customers downstream.
For these reasons, local resource development is one of the primary drivers of Camrosa’s water resources strategy. The local wells Camrosa operates, including the one that feeds the Round Mountain Water Treatment Plant, now produce about half of the drinking water we deliver. Because we produce wellwater for a fraction of the cost of imported water, these local resources also mitigate the impact of higher—and ever-increasing—costs of imported water.
Imported Water Costs 1997 – 2017
This graph shows the imported water costs, per acre-foot, from 1997 through 2017.
Imported Water Costs 1997 – 2017
This graph shows the imported water costs from 1997 through 2017.
The non-potable system has reduced Camrosa’s demand for imported water by about thirty percent. The backbone of this system is the Conejo Creek Diversion structure, which diverts a portion of Conejo Creek water for agricultural reuse. Prior to the Diversion’s construction, water in the creek used to run, after a single use, to the Pacific Ocean. Diverting surface water for landscape and agriculture irrigation has benefitted the entire service area by increasing local supply reliability. It is also a drought-resilient source of supply, shoring up Camrosa’s water portfolio even in extended periods of dry weather.
Did you know that Camrosa recycles 100% of the wastewater produced in the district? Along with the Round Mountain desalination facility, our recycled water is another “drought-resilient” source of supply. Recycled water depends on indoor water use as a source, which tends to remain fairly consistent. Outdoor water use varies widely, depending on the type of landscaping, but it usually accounts for 70-80 percent of total residential water use. During droughts or other periods of reduced or limited supply, outdoor irrigation is usually the first use of water to be cut back, while indoor water use is relatively stable. Which means that, even during a drought, inflows to the Camrosa Water Reclamation Facility usually aren’t significantly reduced, keeping recycled water flows relatively constant. In reality, at Camrosa, nothing goes to waste—not even waste.
Camrosa operates thirteen wells in four aquifers that produce fully half the drinking water we deliver. We have, for more than fifty years, operated those wells in response to basin conditions—when groundwater levels are high, we pump freely. When they fall, we’re more conservative. As levels of various water constituents fluctuate, we blend with more imported water to balance them out. This adaptive management has allowed Camrosa to steadily increase the proportion of the water supplies we develop in this area while remaining good stewards of our local resources.
On April 7, 2017, Governor Brown declared that the drought emergency in California was over, with the exception of a few counties. On the same day, the state released its long-awaited report, Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life, which was the culmination of the work of five state agencies under direction from the Governor’s office. This report outlines a framework for a number of significant changes in water management for the coming years; including the imposition of water budgets on every urban water agency in the state, which could translate into customers being allocated a specific amount of water for their use each month. So, even though the drought emergency is officially over, the implementation of the resulting long-term policy changes is only beginning.