United Water General Manager discusses Quagga Mussel situation

January 31, 2014
Santa Paula News

United Water Conservation District will urge the State Natural Resources Agency to deny a request to halt the release of water from the Lake. The request was made by the Casitas Water District.

“This is no time for Quagga Mussel hysteria,” said United Water General Manager Michael Solomon. “We are taking the infestation of the mussel seriously and taking every necessary step and required action. We’re moving as fast as possible, but we’re not going to panic and act irresponsibly instead we are going to work with the appropriate agencies to use the best science and response options for dealing with the mussel. This is a problem, not a tragedy. And it needs to be treated as such.”

United discovered an infestation of the mussel last month. Since then, it has worked with dive teams to determine the extent of the infestation. Preliminary findings show that although the mussel have spread throughout the lake, the population is fairly low. This early information encourages United officials that they can create an effective plan to control the mussel.

United is a public agency that captures and releases water from Lake Piru as part of its mission to recharge the groundwater aquifers in the Santa Clara River Valley and Oxnard Plain. Recent drought conditions have made that release even more important. Cities and hundreds of Ventura County farmers rely on the aquifers as their primary source of water. Additionally, United is under order from the federal government to keep water flowing into lower Piru Creek to maintain habitat flows for the endangered Southern California Steelhead Trout that might be below the Santa Felicia Dam. Failing to live up to the order puts United in violation of its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license and the Endangered Species Act. This violation would result in large daily fines and other possible criminal action against the District which would have to be paid by residents of Ventura County.

Solomon cited a number of problems and fallacies in the approach advocated by Casitas.

-          Casitas said releasing water from Piru could endanger the water supplies of cities such as Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ventura and Oxnard. But Solomon said these cities’ water supplies are from groundwater and the Quagga Mussel doesn’t live underground. The cities wells are also not located within the river so even if they were in the river water and survived they would not affect these cities. Using this example was an unfair way to create “panic”.

-          Casitas was concerned that the Quagga Mussel would infest its water supply. This is illogical, Solomon said, because the veligers (microbial early stage Quagga Mussel)  have no shell and do not swim... they flow with the tide and to reach Casitas, the mussel would have to move upstream against the water in the Pacific Ocean and the Ventura River. Infestation is almost always caused by transport via boats (or the vehicle/trailer with the boat) going from one water source to another.

On top of that, the Quagga Mussel will not survive in saltwater. They are fresh water mollusks. Even if they made it down to the Santa Clara River Estuary they could not survive.

-If Casitas is worried about birds transporting the mussel (quote from Russ Baggerly “the distance between the Santa Clara River Estuary and the Ventura River Estuary is just a blue herring’s flight away”) are we going to be told to stop ducks, seagulls, etc. from flying out of Lake Piru if they are ending west toward Lake Casitas. There is absolutely NO science or evidence that Quagga Mussels are transported by air.

- As far as the affect on agricultural water users, if, through our analysis, it is discovered Quagga Mussel veligers should be able to survive the turbulence of a flowing Santa Clara River then United will not deliver surface water to some of its agricultural rate payers and instead will use river water to only recharge the groundwater. Farmers will have to rely on their groundwater wells if there is a concern about their irrigation facilities/equipment. We have a facility (Moss Screen) in which we could take corrective action, if it is necessary, to protect agricultural uses that rely on direct river surface water deliveries .

-In another example of the illogical request to halt the release of water from Lake Piru, Solomon noted that a series of heavy rains, that eventually could fill the lake, would cause water to be released over the emergency spillway and there is no way United could hold it back.

“The Santa Clara River is dry in many stretches for miles,” said Solomon. “The likelihood that any mussel would migrate over miles of dry creekbed is not reasonable. While we understand the fear from our fellow water district about wanting to protect their property from this infestation, their suggestion that we cut off all releases is an overreaction. We want to assure them and the public that United is taking multiple actions in addition to those that are the recommended and necessary steps to prevent the mussel from spreading”.

Solomon said he questioned why the Casitas board, “if they really wanted to help us, didn’t contact us to discuss the issues? Instead we found out about their pending action two hours before they took the vote.  We asked them not to send the letter but they felt they knew what was best for our District, yet clearly they do not have an understanding of our operations and legal mandates. This was disappointing, especially since we have been working directly with Casitas from day one of the mussel discovery to make sure they had any information we had that would be useful to them and to invite them to any meetings we had with any resource agency to discuss the problem and potential solutions. If they wanted to help they could provide funding help, technical support or work WITH US to encourage state or federal funding help.

“Casitas does not have the answer to the problem anymore than UWCD does, yet they seek to cripple operations aimed at groundwater recharge before all the facts and information is available. 

“We didn’t cause this problem, and we did everything we could within our financial ability to prevent it from entering the lake - it snuck its way in and now we are committed to the costs and steps necessary to keep it from hampering our important water resource facilities. We are also working cooperatively with the State and other lakes (including Casitas) to provide them with whatever information we can to prevent the further spreading of the Quagga Mussel.”

A copy of a recent presentation staff gave to our Board of Directors in January 2014 to explain the problem and what actions are being taken can be found our website at www.unitedwater.org.





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