By Logan Hall
Ojai citizens pushing for an end to privately owned water are steadily gaining momentum as more local organizations are getting on board the effort.
Most recently, the Ojai Valley Defense Fund and the Surfrider Foundation announced that they support Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water in its bid to remove Golden State Water Company from Ojai through eminent domain. The Defense Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was launched by locals who understand the need for a fund set aside for legally defending the valley should an environmental threat arise and a legal battle ensue.
F.L.O.W., Defense Fund and Surfrider representatives agree that privately owned water companies can harm the local ecosystem. The three groups claim that private companies like Golden State care more about profits for shareholders than about preserving the area’s vital resources.
“Many people don’t realize that this region is not tied to the state water system and is totally dependent on what falls from the sky,” said Defense Fund president John Broesamle. “By removing Golden State Water Company and replacing it with a public entity, we can have local control and management of our watershed, and in that way we will assure that these vital water resources will be managed for the benefit of the valley’s citizens.”
Broesamle stated that he couldn’t comment on whether or not the Defense Fund will be backing F.L.O.W. financially. “This is the phase of the process that we can announce so far.”
In an email to F.L.O.W. from Paul Jenkins, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation Ventura County Chapter, the foundation echoes the Defense Fund’s stance. “Your (F.L.O.W.) efforts to bring the community together demonstrate that the Ojai Valley is aware of the threat to our ecosystem when outside corporate interests control a water supply,” read the letter. “There are many examples from around the world and in the United States in which corporations have drastically impacted local communities through profit-motivated actions that overdraft local water supplies … With ever increasing pressure on this limited supply, it is crucial that the community is able to work together in a cooperative manner to ensure future sustainability … Recent actions by Golden State and the PUC demonstrate that they do not answer to the community.”
Golden State representatives, however, disagree.
“We’re managing the groundwater basin in the Ojai area,” said GSWC district manager Ken Petersen. “We’re studying it to make sure we use it beneficially so we don’t get overdrafts.”
Petersen added that Golden State helped form the Ojai Basin Groundwater Agency. “We’re an active participant and member of the agency,” he said.
F.L.O.W. supporters believe that the backing of organizations like the Defense Fund is a major step in the right direction for Ojai’s citizens. “Having the Surfrider Foundation and the Ojai Valley Defense Fund backing us is a big deal,” said F.L.O.W. representative Pat McPherson. “So far, along with the Surfrider Foundation and Defense Fund, we are supported by the City of Ojai, the Ojai Unified School District and the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors. This is an opportunity to control our watershed. Managing our water so we still have it later is a smart thing to do.”
McPherson also pointed out that they would like to see action taken by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The chamber is really the only one not endorsing us,” he said. “That’s important for us.”
Scott Eicher, the chamber’s CEO, responded with an email statement saying that the chamber has to follow proper procedures when taking an official stance on positions like F.L.O.W.’s. “Ojai F.L.O.W. is aware of our policy,” Eicher stated, “and knows we will hear their presentation and one from the Ojai Valley Groundwater Basin in January. After reviewing this information, the board of directors will confer and then issue a statement or position.”
The Ojai Valley News will continue to report on Ojai’s water supply in upcoming issues.