OP-ED by Ojai Councilman William Weirick: 'Ventura's adjudication lawsuit is ethically and financially indefensible'

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By William Weirick, Ojai City Council member
Hard to find the best descriptor after witnessing staff on Aug. 2 maneuvering the Ventura City Council into plunking down another cool million on the fool’s errand otherwise known as the Ventura River watershed adjudication. “Leading by the nose ring” or herding “further down the chute” are two that come to mind. It is clear listening to councilmembers’ remarks that they are being advised to stay “inside the bubble” in terms of big-picture information. In other words, staying away from interacting with different points of view because of the litigation they have authorized.

Ventura’s lawyers have been arguing that everyone needs to show their cards all at the same time, while also arguing that they had legions of experts and studies supporting the notion of tight connectivity between all underground aquifers and surface flows at the city’s well field in the Ventura River at Foster Park. In other words, they have been arguing that even though the city sued the entire Ojai Valley partially based on this notion, they did not need to reveal their evidence until those being sued are forced to show their cards simultaneously.

When the judge finally directed the city show its cards first, to divulge all the studies it has represented as extant and definitive, the immediate response from Ventura’s attorneys was to ask staff to get Council to approve another million to do these studies. As an aside, this is what its legal firm is known for — leading their clients down rabbit holes of diminishing-success probability while getting more fees to try to stave off ultimate failure.

The problem for Ventura is that the evidence all along, and with time getting only more definitive, is that the single-most important underground aquifer in the watershed is not one “bowl.” It is demarcated into multiple geological formations and therefore multiple “bowls.” Most importantly, the shallower “bowls” supplying flows between storms into San Antonio Creek (the only connection between the Ojai aquifer and the Foster Park well field) are not meaningfully connected to the larger, deeper “bowl” from which almost all irrigation and domestic water supply is drawn.

In other words, wide swings in elevation for the production layer, where almost all aquifer users are pumping water from, have no measurable effect on San Antonio Creek flows into the Ventura River. The city of Ventura claims these swings are tightly correlated, while not yet producing any evidence in support of this claim. The creek flows come from perched aquifers and stormwater flows, not from the production aquifer.

This is the fool’s errand for which staff has suckered Ventura Council into approving another cool million. When the judge finally had enough, told Ventura it is time to show your cards, to divulge the portfolio that their lawyers told the court already existed, the response was to tell Council they needed to approve another million to put a portfolio together.

Just think about that for a while.

This all stems from the city of Ventura literally pumping the river dry after entering its well field at Foster Park.

For decades.

Being part of the Casitas Municipal Water District and being by far the largest single user of surface reservoir water was not enough. Being the largest single user of water diverted from Coyote Creek, Santa Ana Creek, and the Ventura River surface flows into surface storage does not satisfy Ventura.

The city has schemed for decades to avoid accountability for irresponsible, ecologically damaging diversion from its Foster Park well field, on top of what it consumes from regulated diversion into Lake Casitas.
When finally brought to account for this behavior, the city’s response was to claim “Pueblo water rights,” to assert a myth of tight connectivity between deep-aquifer storage and San Antonio Creek flows, and once again attempt to circumvent new state regulatory protocols meant to achieve watershed sustainability.

It is the same playbook Ventura has followed for years, at the expense of their taxpayers and at the cost of investing in sustainable management of the Ventura River watershed.

The decision-makers in Ventura seem to be incapable of reflecting on the complete lack of any environmental ethics from trying to escape accountability for their ecologically criminal past practices through claiming victimhood status — victimhood from not getting enough water based on “senior water rights” founded on the genocidal exploitation of indigenous peoples. That is what “Pueblo water rights” are. What was here when sustainably occupied by the Chumash before Europeans arrived. The water that was part of the Chumash culture the city of Ventura claims it has first rights to because of Junipero Serra’s mission.

In overall context, the fool’s errand staff just got Ventura City Council to spend more money on is not just a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. It is to continue on a path undermining development of contemporary sustainable management of the entire Ventura River watershed. Adjudication is like urban sprawl — reflecting a mentality that got us to this unsustainable state.
It is ethically and financially indefensible.



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Ventura City Council graphic on Aug. 2 City Council meeting agenda (consent calendar item) to pay another $900,000 to Best, Best & Krieger lawyers to sue thousands of Ventura City Council's own constituents and Ojai Valley residents to try to claim their water.