The Ventura County Board of Supervisors passed an emergency ordinance temporarily banning new groundwater wells on Tuesday, October 28, 2014. The ordinance bans new water wells in four areas of the county — including the watersheds of the Ventura, Santa Clara and Cuyama rivers, as well as Calleguas Creek.
The emergency ordinance was enacted because of concerns about groundwater shortages and was enacted despite opposition from growers and others. A recent article in the Ventura County Star noted the concerns voiced by the opposition, including the “taking of property rights and the lack of time for input and analysis” of the proposed moratorium that had only been announced a week earlier. Ventura County’s ag commissioner Henry Gonzales noted he supported a no vote because he wanted to “protect farmers.” Nelson Sommers, who farms 1,000 acres, noted the moratorium made him “really, really scared” because most of his wells were drilled in the 1920s and earlier. Upon learning of the proposed moratorium, Sommers submitted applications for new wells. However, the ordinance took effect immediately and only allows new well applications received by October 22 to move forward.
A recent editorial written by John Krist, Executive Director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, noted that local farmers were very disappointed by the vote particularly because of the lack of transparency, the rushed process and failure to incorporate stakeholders’ input despite Ventura County’s long history of collaborating with stakeholders to solve problems.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors notes the ordinance is a stop-gap measure put into place until the new state groundwater rules take affect, but opponents fear the ordinance will be around for years. The moratorium will expire when local agencies turn in state-required groundwater sustainability plans.
In a recent article, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Steve Bennett, noted the ban was needed to “protect remaining [water] supplies for cities and farmers” due to a spike in applications for new wells and because of a new state law that will begin next year. He also noted that he hoped the emergency ordinance would serve as a “carrot” to get local sustainability guidelines in place. According to the article, the measure “allows owners to repair or replace existing wells and provides a process for case-by-case exceptions.”