Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CMWD Elects To Take On Federal Plan

Board believes management of recreation area may be BOR power grab

By Daryl Kelley
In a move that highlights growing tensions with federal officials, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District decided Monday to spend up to $25,000 to have legal and environmental experts review a new federal plan for management of the Lake Casitas Recreation Area and a large open space preserve next to it.
In a special meeting, Casitas board members said they think the new plan may be a power grab by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that could undermine the water district’s mandate to provide clean water to residents of the Ojai Valley and Ventura.
The federal bureau, which built the Casitas Dam and waterworks more than 50 years ago, has called an Aug. 28 meeting in Oak View to publicly review the new plan.
But the Casitas agency, which was created to oversee water distribution from the dam’s reservoir and now manages its recreational facilities, was surprised by the lack of early notification of the meeting and by the contents of the new 300-page-plus document.
Indeed, the bureau’s public announcement of the meeting said Casitas was a co-host and that the new plan had been developed by the federal and local entities. Casitas board members said they are not hosts of the meeting, and will only attend as a member of the public.
And they sharply disagreed with many of the proposals in the new plan that are listed as possible management schemes.
“We’re not happy with this,” said board President Jim Word.
“They’re either totally obtuse or they have a hidden agenda,” said Director Bill Hicks.
Since federal and local officials have been discussing the issues in the report for nearly a decade in preparation for the document’s release, board members said federal officials know the directors’ positions on key issues, but chose to ignore them.
Among the apparent directions in which federal officials seem to be moving, members said, is turning over management of the 3,500-acre Teague Watershed area north of Lake Casitas to the U.S. Forest Service, rather than leaving it under control of the Casitas board.
The watershed, purchased by an act of Congress in the 1970s, was intended to be left as open space once a handful of residents who lived there had died. Only two such residents remain. But under the new plan, the U.S. Forest Service would have a station there and camping and horseback riding might be allowed. Casitas officials said they think such activities could pollute the lake with toxic runoff.
“The Teague Watershed is not being used for anything now, and we’re still getting a blue-green algae on the lake,” said Director Russ Baggerly. “If they turn that over (for activities) we’re done for ... This is going to cost us a ton of money if we don’t get control of that land.”
Secondly, the Bureau of Reclamation seems to favor allowing swimming and water skiing at the lake, which now allows no body contact with reservoir water because of water quality concerns.
And thirdly, the Bureau wants to rewrite its contract with Casitas to expand the federal government’s role in all aspects of management of the park, Casitas officials said.
Indeed, the bureau issued a cease-and-desist order in 2003, prohibiting Casitas from making any more changes at the recreation area after Casitas built its popular, money-making water park without federal approval. Construction of the park sparked a legal challenge by environmental groups. Now, Casitas may not change the recreation area at all without federal approval until the new resource management plan is adopted.
The question, board members said, is what Casitas should do about what they see as a federal move to undermine powers given the water district by Congress and legal contracts.
The board decided to write a letter to the bureau, notifying officials that they are not co-hosts of the public meeting Aug. 28 at the Oak View Community Center and asking for more time after the meeting so experts in federal environment and water law may critique the new bureau plan. For now, Casitas has only a month after next week’s meeting to submit responses.
Director Richard Handley asked his colleagues whether they should pass a resolution to let the bureau know Casitas would take whatever action is necessary to protect the water quality of Lake Casitas.
“To me there really seems to be a very basic conflict about who has the authority (in the Teague Watershed),” Handley said. “I’m an elected official in the management of this lake, and I’m being left out of the loop.”
But his colleagues said such a pointed resolution should follow next week’s hearing and expert evaluation of the federal plan.
Board member Baggerly said Casitas ought to move with measured steps, because the bureau’s regional director, Michael Jackson, is a reasonable person who listens.
“We at some point might really need the regional director to be on our side,” said Baggerly. “So we need to do this in a firm but gentlemanly way.”
The board decided to invite Jackson to next Thursday’s meeting to make sure he is fully informed of Casitas’ concerns about the proposed management plan.
Steve Wickstrum, general manager at Casitas, advised the board to ask federal officials to clarify their positions. And he said the district might want to to take a low-key approach until the water district is sure of its legal position and the nuances of the National Environmental Policy Act, the law that the new plan must follow.
“We may want to do a lot more listening than we do talking at this time,” Wickstrum said.
At the same time, Wickstrum said it is clear that the bureau is already allowing the Forest Service to use the Teague Watershed for training, although management of the area is supposed to be under Casitas’ control.
Debate over the new resource management plan is just the latest dispute between federal officials and Casitas.
Casitas has spent more than $500,000 on a lawsuit that seeks reimbursement of about $9 million the district was required to spend to help restore the Ventura River run of the endangered steelhead trout.
Of the costs to implement the new federal plan, Director Pete Kaiser said: “It seems to be just another federal scheme to have our ratepayers pay for this.”


Anonymous said...

"Secondly, the Bureau of Reclamation seems to favor allowing swimming and water skiing at the lake, which now allows no body contact with reservoir water because of water quality concerns."
I buy that one- Not!!! Since the Olympics back in 1984 A FILTRATION SYSTEM HAS BEEN INPLACE that would allow human contact. The board has just not wanted it so they continue to say it will hurt the water quality. The fishermen do not want water skiers as it will upset there fishing. I hope the bureau of land management takes over as this lake belongs to all us taxpayers to use.

Anonymous said...

If you think traffic is bad now, imagine what it would like if the lake were to be opened to PWCs, sailboarding, kiteboarding, waterskiing and swimming.

"Stop the Trucks" will seem to have been a completely pointless exercise in the face of what could be coming.

Anonymous said...

It wont be that bad. If you open it they will come. If you are so concerned about the traffic. We could always finish putting the freeway in. The businesses and the county will benefit from the money that will follow these people. Really learn to share the space. It belongs to all of us. Not just a select few that think it is all just for them.

Anonymous said...

Every other lake in California is a noisy lake. People who want a quiet lake should be allowed to have one. They pay taxes, too.

Anonymous said...

We should hope that the Feds do not take over the CMWD. How times have they broken something that didn't need to be fixed? The watershed stands to be better protected by those with a local interest than those who take orders from Washington. The lake is unique and should be kept that way.

Opening the lake to waterskiing, PWC's, and windsurfing is a recipe for disaster. As it is now, boaters have to be extremely carefulwith the kayakers. They sit low in water and can be difficult to see.

It has been my experience with waterskiers is they don't care about respecting the others who are enjoying the lake. I won't go to Lake Castaic because of this. Many times in the past I have been far into the fish arm and had water skiers can full speed within 25 feet of the boat I was in. On top of that, now they have a huge array of 500 watt speakers mounted on the tow bar, all going full volume. Come on, water skiers have Piru, Castaic, Pyramid, Naciemento, and Lopez, Not to mention all the lakes in Riverside, San Bernadino and Riverside Counties.

I forget what it's called, but there's a program that is like "Cops", but it's for the boat patrols, usually at Lake Havasu. The whole culture appears to be about drinking and driving your boat as fast as it can go. I'm sure not all waterskiers do, however, when you see several hundred boats tied up to each other and everyone on them are drinking heavily, it has to make you think if we really want that going on here at Casitas.

Another important consideration is that the quagga mussel is not going to go away. If the BR takes over the recreational part of the lake, I'm sure they'll do away with the current protective measures that are in place, leaving the lake very vulnerable to infestation. I think that the current measures are over the top as it is, but the BR would probably soften them up to much. The only reason the lake is protected so well now is the due diligence of the ranger staff, but I'm sure they would be replaced.

I'm not a big fan of the current board, but I'd rather see them retain control than the Feds.

Rick Raine

Anonymous said...

Right on, Rick!

PQuincy said...

I'm afraid that we need to remember that this is (in part) the Bush administration's Bureau of Reclamation -- for eight years, the administration has been pushing anti-regulation and pro-industry people into every Federal agency they can, after all. Even if the local or regional staff -- more likely to be long-term employees -- are great people, they do have to listen to pressure from Washington, where incompetent ideologues are running most agencies, especially any relating to natural resources (such as the Forest Service).

It is the publicly-stated intention of the Bush administration to push through as much industry-friendly regulation over the next few months as possible, as well.

If this new plan came out of the blue and appears to be being 'rushed through', I'd be awfully suspicious -- and I support the Casitas Board's efforts to slow things down!

Anonymous said...

last commenter this has been in the works for awhile now. It is not something that bush is trying to push before he leaves. And rick the current policy of boat inspections will not change. Water skier boats will still have to be inspected and wait ten days. It is not like they are going to just let boats start pouring in. Also What are your thoughts on letting the horse back riders use the trails? Are you against this?

Anonymous said...

Lake Casitas has the most stringent protective measures in the state. I have been outspoken regarding the as being to stringent, but agreeing that the protection of the lake is a high priority. Ski boats have always been allowed to use the lake, pre-and post- inspection regulations.

I'm not anti-skier. In fact, when I researched and finally purchased my boat, I chose a ski/fish model so that I can take my grandkids water skiing and tubing when they get older, but not at Lake Casitas. For me, it's worth to drive the extra miles in order to preserve Lake Casitas' uniqueness. There are lots of other lakes around to go to water and jet ski.

I don't think anybody can guarantee that, if the BR does take control, that the rules won't change. I'm not saying they certainly will, but nobody should be surprised if they do. The bottom line would be the priority in Washington.

As far as horseback riding goes, I love it! And, they don't have an array of 500 watt speakers cranked to the max as they do their thing. I have reached no conclusion as to the impact of openning currently off limit areas, although, at his time, I fail to see the negative impact, unless one of the riders think they're Gene Autry and start singin'. I do know this, though. The horse owners are far from lacking in areas to ride.

Rick Raine