Water Budget Case Study
Surfrider's 'Cycle of Insanity - the Real Story of Water' video illustrates how the water cycle, upon which we all depend, has been modified in so many ways that it has become a 'Cycle of Insanity.' We have developed our urban areas to channel rainfall into storm drains that deliver polluted runoff directly to our rivers and coasts, wasting water that could be directed into our over-pumped aquifers. Millions of gallons of treated wastewater is being discharged into the ocean - where desalinization plants are being proposed to pump that water back out of the ocean to remove the salt and sell it as a new water supply. All of this wastes precious fresh water AND energy, further exacerbating the impacts of climate change.
In the Ventura region the signs of stress are evident - but not always seen as connected.
Problem: The Ventura river is dry at Foster Park while McGrath State Beach is flooded - how can this be?
This is where it helps to
Know Your H2O - where does your water come from, and where does it go?
From this simplified schematic we can see that about half the city's water supply comes from the Ventura River. The wells at Foster Park provide about 25% of the city's water, and there is a high demand from this good quality source which is used to dilute the poor groundwater from east side wells.
About half of the total water used in the city is discharged as wastewater into the Santa Clara River estuary. So while it may seem 'natural' to discharge treated water into the estuary, much of it does not even originate from the Santa Clara River watershed. In dry years (like this) when the sand berm does not breach and drain the estuary into the ocean, that 9 million gallons a day keeps accumulating, often flooding the state beach. Artificial breaches have resulted in fish kills, so solutions to the flooding problem have been hard to reach.
These supply and demand numbers are taken from the city's recent 2013 Final Comprehensive Water Resources Report. It is evident from this graph that if 'new' sources of water are not found the city will outgrow its water supply in the near future. (Indeed, we may already be there, as another year of drought will spell trouble.)
Solutions: The red arrow shows that the potential for recycled water in Ventura is close to 50% of demand. (Of course the actual volume would be less than this depending on treatment and reuse options, but this demonstrates the overall magnitude.) Therefore water recycling would provide an opportunity to reduce the flooding problem at McGrath as well as offset demand to reduce pressure on the supplies. (i.e. an 'integrated solution') The City of Ventura is currently investigating recycling opportunities and in the short term installing a system for controlled pumping of the estuary into the ocean.
Urban Runoff and Ocean Friendly Gardens:
Another symptom of the Cycle of Insanity in Ventura is urban runoff. Surfrider has studied the downtown/midtown areas and mapped the underground storm drains. This infrastructure effectively directly connects to the ocean almost every gutter downspout, driveway, street, and parking lot in the area. The 'impervious' landscape turns even the smallest rainfall into runoff.
Problem: Within the Midtown area (Prince/Sanjon drainage) high runoff volumes flood Sanjon Road and pollute the beaches every time it rains.
While individual citizens often have little control over this infrastructure, the solution begins at home. This is why Surfrider's 'Ocean Friendly Gardens' program is catching on throughout the region. Last year's Ocean Friendly Garden project in the Midtown area not only installed a residential garden, but also included the first 'curb cut' in Ventura.
The 'curb cut' expands the effectiveness of Ocean Friendly Gardens into the public right-of-way, directing runoff from the street into the median where it is infiltrated into the soil. Any excess water that cannot be absorbed is filtered and released back into the street.
Although the City of Ventura has been slowly retrofitting some of the urban area and planning to implement a 'green streets' demonstration project, budget cuts recently forced the city council to reverse its 2008 'green streets' policy which funds these projects.
Solutions: A less costly community-based green streets approach may be to install curb-cut bioswales along an entire city block. This would capture the majority of runoff before it enters the storm drain and ends up on the beach for a fraction of the cost of an engineered green street demonstration project. This may soon become a reality in Midtown Ventura if a 'block party' can be organized!
Do you KNOW YOUR H2O?
Surfrider's Know Your H2O campaign aims to educate communities about water management issues that affect the health of our watersheds, coast and ocean. Taking the time to learn where your water comes from, and where it goes when it leaves your home is a first step. Once we understand the problems, and can see how to solve them, we can take action to make basic changes. In this way a new philosophy of water management starts at home and spreads throughout our communities.