Cohort Reflections

Water, water everywhere

By Jon Gathman, Installation Program Integrator at Naval Base Ventura County

How much water comes from the San Joaquin Valley (ie Sacramento) to support the Metropolitan Water District (serving you, me and the 18.999998 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties)?

  1. 4%
  2. 10%
  3. 30%
  4. 60%

While you consider the above, here’s something I learned from the talented and generous guest speakers we met last week discussing the County’s water and agriculture industries. Did you know 60% of the water that travels through Sacramento (San Joaquin valley) runs off to the ocean? While some of that water does need to flush the waterways and recharge various groundwater basins, there is a bit more of that 60% that could be captured and stored during wet years to normalize the wild swings of available water during any given year.

The answer is A) 4% which is half of the allocation allowed to be bought by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), serving the Southern California areas mentioned above. I was shocked when I learned this – I had always assumed the amount of water Southern California drew from Northern California was a much larger proportion of the overall water available given how polarizing an issue water tends to be between Northern and Southern California.

The MWD is part of the bigger State Water Project – the massive network of dams, levees and spillways built in the 60’s that with just a few additions could add a few tunnels to take advantage of surplus rainfall.

I highly recommend checking out where the water you use on a daily basis comes from.

Having enough water is critical to every person and every industry, particularly the agriculture industry that makes up $2 Billion (with a ‘B’!) of Ventura County’s economic impact. While I was surprised to learn that 90% of what is grown in Ventura County is exported to the rest of the nation and the world, the way that produce is sold to retailers really shattered my assumptions of farming.

Rather than growers setting a price – retailers pay growers at the ever-fluctuating rate of a given commodity, so that every grower has to predict the peak of a given crop, and pounce on the perfect time to sell. But the window for cashing in is narrow with high risk.So, from my time in the academy so far (3 sessions), here are some observations worth considering:

  • More people leave Ventura County to work than the other way around.
  • Keeping jobs from leaving/attracting jobs to Ventura County is probably key to the continued viability of the County’s economy.
  • That would certainly be helped by more widely available affordable housing.
  • Development outside city limits is limited by SOAR, driving the need to increase population density within already developed areas.
  • Projects that increase population density are generally opposed by voters for various reasons and (I assume) misconceptions.

If the County’s economic prosperity is tied to job and housing availability, and one of our primary economic engines is the agriculture industry, what do future groundwater limitations mean for everyone and are we doing enough to conserve/capture/use our water to the maximum extent we can?

I don’t think there are any easy answers but I’m struck by how many different issues all intersect and are interwoven at the heart of Ventura County’s continued success. I see two ways you the reader can help out: 1) read what you can on proposed legislation and vote. 2)  Support our local farmers by following the advice of an experienced grower we met: “Eat local, eat in season!”

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About the Author

Jon Gathman has lived and worked in Ventura County for 12 years, beginning with service as a Naval Flight Officer at NBVC, Point Mugu. After 9 years of active duty service, he now serves as the NBVC Installation Program Integrator responsible for long term, strategic planning and is leading the effort to establish Intergovernmental Support Agreements with mutual cost savings in concert with NBVC CPLO and County officials. Jon resides in Oxnard, with his wife Chris, 2 kids and two dogs.