Brakes applied to water trucking
By Lea Boyd
Buried in the Santa Barbara County zoning code is language that prohibits a lucrative-though-lamentable business sprung from the drought, that of trucking Carpinteria’s precious groundwater from private wells to Montecito estates. The act has achieved quite a bit of notoriety over the past few months, with water trucks looping along the edge of town to carry anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 gallons per trip out of the thirsty valley and onto the open market.
“The big red trucks that you’ve been seeing, they’re hauling water up to Montecito,” CVWD General Manager Charles Hamilton told the district’s board of directors on Sept. 10.
Reports of the business—which initially appeared to be legal but has been scorned as unethical—led CVWD to the office of First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and to the county planning and development department, where Director Glenn Russell informed district staff that anyone engaging in water sales from county agricultural land would be violating the zoning code.
“I think this is going to be a problem that goes away,” Hamilton said.
Three sellers have been identified within the valley, and two have given Hamilton their word that they would cease water sales. The going rate, Coastal View News learned from an anonymous source, is 3 to 4 cents per gallon paid to the well owner, and water-desperate Montecito clients pay around 10 cents per gallon to water truckers. CVWD Boardmember June Van Wingerden, who owns a local flower-growing nursery, reported that purchases from the well owners amount to just $30 to $40 per truckload.
Thanks to a robust groundwater supply, Carpinteria Valley is well off water-wise compared to its neighbors. Nonetheless, customers have been asked to cut back their water use by 20 percent as CVWD’s main water source, Lake Cachuma, shrinks daily. Underground aquifers will serve a critical need if the drought continues into 2015.
“The groundwater is a shared resource,” CVWD Board President Matt Roberts said, “and we don’t want folks using it for selfish reasons, like selling it for a profit.”
Most of the private wells in Carpinteria Valley exist on Santa Barbara County properties zoned for agriculture, from which water sales cannot be permitted. Selling water from a private well within the City of Carpinteria would require a conditional use permit and coastal development permit.
“Where the buyers of this water are going to go I don’t know, but they’re not going to be able to get it out of Carpinteria Valley,” said Hamilton.
Anyone who notices a water truck leaving the valley can report it to the county at 568-3558.
In other water news
70 percent of CVWD customers have reduced their water use compared to this time last year. The district has achieved an overall voluntary reduction in water use of just over 20 percent.
Worrisome vibrations from the motor of the El Carro Well pump are undergoing a $27,000 fix to ensure the mechanism is in good shape for potential heavy use if the drought continues.
A grant secured by Cachuma Resource Conservation District will cover the $40,000 to $50,000 needed for a California Irrigation Management Information System to provide Carpinteria-specific data on evapotranspiration rates, information that will help local farmers determine watering needs.
CVWD will consider a draft ordinance at its Sept. 24 meeting that sets water use restrictions, such as prohibited irrigation times, and implements a fine structure for customers who fail to comply. Fines are anticipated to begin at $25 and increase to $300 if a customer continues to violate the regulations.