Member Spotlight – August 2017

  • by Marie Meade
  • Aug 18, 2017
  • Newsletters

United Water Conservation District: Proudly Conserving and Protecting its Water Resources and Ecosystem

UWCD’s Article 21 State Water release from Lake Castaic reduced rising nitrate levels in the district wells in June 2017.

United Water Conservation District has the lion’s share of responsibilities conserving and protecting the water resources of the Santa Clara River Valley and Oxnard Coastal Plain. Operating the 82,000 acre-feet of water at the Santa Felicia Dam and an estimated 700 acres of recharge basins, UWCD diligently maintains the health of the region’s groundwater while thwarting seawater intrusion, and simultaneously protecting the area’s ecosystem.

General Manager Mauricio E. Guardado, Jr. is proud of the district’s projects, including the purchase and subsequent release of Article 21 State Water, plans for safety improvements to the Santa Felicia Dam, and the Freeman Diversion Fish Passage Project.

The fish passage project became a necessity due to the Freeman Diversion Dam. The dam was originally constructed in 1991 to divert Santa Clara River flow to enhance the recharge of local groundwater supplies that had been breached by seawater. The concrete diversion dam is a barrier to steelhead and other aquatic species attempting to migrate upstream, so the fish ladder was constructed in an attempt to allow unimpeded migration through the facility. The screened fishbay is located directly downstream of where flow enters the facility and its function is to direct fish to the downstream migrant trap or back to the river. Located at the end of the fishbay is a fish bypass pipe that can be used to direct fish back to the river when there is sufficient flow to allow for migration to the estuary.

“It’s about balance – diverting water for people and crops while ensuring safe passage for steelhead trout,” Guardado said of the fish passage project. “It’s not an easy task; most diversion projects in Northern California have lots of fresh water. The Santa Clara area is generally replenished by flash floods, so the design and construction of the Freeman Fish Passage has been a challenge.”

Article 21 State Water Purchase Replenishes Groundwater Basins

The stars aligned in UWCD’s favor when the district first gained the rare opportunity in March to purchase 10,000 acre-feet of water from the California Department of Water Resources through the Article 21 program. This program provides water supplies to State Water Project contractors when water in excess of the current SWP need is available. The water was originally purchased to replenish groundwater basins in the Santa Clara River Valley and Oxnard Plain, then later it was released at a flow rate to maximize benefits to all of the district’s basins.

This additional water supply was especially valuable when in June of this year, Guardado called for an emergency release of some 15,000 acre-feet from Lake Piru in an effort to combat rising nitrate levels in UWCD’s wells at the El Rio facility.

“By taking action before the situation became critical, we were able to ensure the public would have safe drinking water as we moved into the dry, warm days of summer,” said Guardado.

Protecting Santa Felicia Dam and the Lake Piru Recreation Area

As the Oroville Dam’s spillway eroded in February of this year — causing evacuations — officials with UWCD viewed the problem as a cautionary tale and took a closer look at the management of the district’s Santa Felicia Dam Spillway.

(l-r) UWCD Director Dan Naumann, General Manager Mauricio E. Guardado, Jr., Director Shelly Berger, and Board President Bruce E. Dandy took the district’s message for expanded water resources development to federal legislators and regulators in July. Photo credit: John Carman, UWCD Chief Water Treatment Operator

After a serious period of rain, the amount of water stored in Lake Piru Reservoir could exceed the capacity of Santa Felicia Dam’s existing spillway, causing the dam’s crest and the spillway’s walls to be overtopped. As in the case of Oroville Dam, the risk of dam collapse and significant downstream flooding could be possible.

Engineering consultants determined that at an anticipated cost of $21 million, the dam crest should be raised and the spillway floor should be lowered. Construction will begin on this project in 2021.

Infrastructure of the Santa Felicia Dam provides hydroelectric power generation, and therefore, the Santa Felicia Project is regulated by a license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) under the Federal Powers Act. The FERC license has various terms and conditions that UWCD must satisfy to remain in compliance with state and federal regulations.

Some of the requirements are associated with structural engineering, water quality, and public safety, others pertain to management of biological and land resources, and recreational opportunities and facilities.

To meet the requirement that a portion of the national forestry is devoted to recreation, Lake Piru is maintained as a popular recreation area for people from miles around. The lake is ideal for water sports, such as swimming, sailing, water skiing, and fishing. UWCD’s campgrounds offer water and electrical hook- ups for recreational vehicles at reasonable rates. There also is a full-service marina and snack bar.

Designed within CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) guidelines, UWCD Lake Piru Trail provides miles of hiking access to U.S. Forest Service lands. Clearly delineated trails with signage and natural materials protect wildlife habitats. In addition to its ongoing projects, UWCD has an ambitious plan for the future that includes managing water resources to ensure water reliability and resilience, protecting ratepayers’ investments in data collection, infrastructure, and capital improvements — all the while protecting the Santa Clara Watershed ecosystem and wildlife habitats of the area.

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