In-Stream Flow Public Trust & Reasonable Water Use Campaign

Santa Clara River In-Stream Flow Public Trust and Unreasonable Use Complaint

VeRn Freeman Diversion Dam Located at Santa Clara RIver Mile 10.5

In November 2013, Wishtoyo, Center for Biological Diversity, and CAUSE filed a public trust, unreasonable use and unreasonable method of diversion Complaint with the California State Water Board against United Water Conservation District and the State Board to restore the Santa Clara River’s ecosystem, its habitat for native flora and fauna, its steelhead fishery, and its cultural and recreational uses downstream of the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam in Ventura County, California. The Complaint was amended on March 25, 2015 to add Fox Canyon Groundwater Agency due to Fox Canyon's unreasonable and wasteful management of the Oxnard Plain Groundwater Basins that harms the public trust resources of the Santa Clara River by causing depletion of the Santa Clara River’s flows downstream of United’s Vern Freeman Diversion Dam. Fox Canyon’s practices also threaten to irreparably deplete the region's groundwater supplies needed for sustainable agricultural, municipal, and industrial uses.

Diagram detailing the crop types grown within the Oxnard Plain groundwater basins managed by Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency. The parcels shaded in red depict the land in which water is extracted for unsustainable water guzzling luxury crops for the arid region, such as for strawberries, sod and flowers. 

United’s Diversion at Santa Clara River mile 10.5 and Fox Canyon's management of the River flow's United diverts to recharge the Oxnard Plain groundwater aquifers it manages, unjustly and unnecessarily deprives the economically and politically marginalized communities of Oxnard, Saticoy, El Rio, Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Piru, consisting primarily of Latino residents, but also populations of Chumash Native Americans, of the economic, cultural, recreational, educational, and aesthetic benefits provided by a sufficiently flowing Santa Clara River.

The California State Water Resources Control Board, after accepting Wishtoyo Foundation’s, its Ventura Coastkeeper Program’s, Center for Biological Diversity’s, and CAUSE’s amended Santa Clara River in-stream flow public trust and unreasonable use complaint, has ordering United and Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency to respond. Fox Canyon's response was filed on August 29th, 2015, and we now awaiting the State Water Board investigation and hearing stages. 

Through our Complaint, we strive to:

Wishtoyo Legal Clerks stuck below the Vern Freeman Dam in the summer due to Uniteds dewatering diversions

1.) Once again provide the peoples of Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Saticoy, El Rio, Oxnard, and Ventura with their birthright to a free flowing Santa Clara River with native and endangered species; fishing, swimming, boating, and recreating opportunities; a place to gather natural cultural resources and maintain cultural practices; and a local river to view, enjoy, and learn about wildlife, place, science, and the natural environment.

2.) Restore native and endangered species such as Southern California Steelhead, South Western Willow Flycatcher, Least Bell’s Vireo, and Western Yellow Billed Cuckoo to their critical habitat in the Santa Clara River..

3.) Prevent Ventura County’s groundwater aquifers from being mined beyond repair so that farms and municipalities have a secure future water supply for sustainable uses; 

4.) Enforce and advance the reasonable water use provisions of the California Constitution to ensure water is conserved, used efficiently, and not wasted locally and throughout the state. 

Recycled Water Reasonable Use Campaign 

Wishtoyo Sues California Over Recycled Water Approvals allowing Wasteful And Unreasonable Water Use

Strawberries, a lucratively profitable Crop Grown in the Oxnard Plain, are mining the Oxnard PlaIN Groundwater Aquifers to Depletion and Depriving the Santa Clara River of needed flows

As part of our campaign to ensure reasonable use of all of California's scarce water resources, including recycled water, on December 8, 2015, Wishtoyo filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the California State Water Resources Control Board and Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. Wishtoyo’s Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief seeks to ensure that the Boards break their patterns and practices of not adhering to their affirmative duties under the California Constitution, Water Code, and Public Trust Doctrine to ensure that new water, including recycled water, is used and managed reasonably, and when feasible, to protect and restore California’s flow deprived rivers and streams.

In addition to the suit’s statewide ramifications, Wishtoyo seeks to ensure that the City of Oxnard’s Groundwater Recovery Enhancement and Treatment (“Oxnard GREAT”) recycled water is used and managed reasonably and in a manner that protects the flow deprived Santa Clara River and the Oxnard Plain’s over-drafted groundwater aquifers. 


The Complaint requests that at the very least, the Boards analyze whether the Oxnard GREAT recycled water they approved for use will be put to reasonable beneficial use, and whether it is feasible to manage the recycled water in a manner that helps restore and protect the Santa Clara River. The lawsuit also seeks to ensure that recipients of Oxnard GREAT recycled water will implement best available agricultural and municipal efficiency and conservation measures, and will use the recycled water for crops and municipal uses that are sustainable for the arid region.

Wasteful FuRROW IRrigation depriving the Santa Clara River of Flows is common Place in the Oxnard PLain

Wasteful FuRROW IRrigation depriving the Santa Clara River of Flows is common Place in the Oxnard PLain

“The California Constitution is clear - all water, even recycled water, must be used reasonably and not wasted,” said Jason Weiner, General Counsel and Water Initiative Director for Wishtoyo Foundation. “When new water is brought into a water scarce region, it should not be utilized to perpetuate decades of unsustainable, unreasonable, and wasteful water management and practices that have led to the mining of groundwater aquifers and the draining of the public’s streams. Rather, when feasible, it should be managed so that more water is left in-stream and in the ground instead of being extracted.”

SOd, also a very water intensive crop, is draining the OxnaRD Plain Groundwater Basins and sucking the Santa Clara River Dry

“In addition to its state wide significance, our Petition has significant local implications because Oxnard GREAT recycled water should be managed to help restore the Santa Clara River’s in-stream flow dependent natural cultural resources the Chumash depend upon, the Santa Clara’s native and endangered fish and wildlife, including the endangered Southern California Steelhead, and the River’s recreational and educational opportunities for economically and politically marginalized residents in Oxnard, Ventura, Saticoy, El Rio, Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Piru,” said Mati Waiya, Chumash Ceremonial Elder and Wishtoyo Executive Director. 

City of Ventura Sewage Effluent Reclamation Project

Only a Very Small Fraction of Ventura's Tertiary Treated WasteWater Discharges are Reclaimed. The Majority of its Wastewater is discharges to the ESTUARY through this pipe.

Only a Very Small Fraction of Ventura's Tertiary Treated WasteWater Discharges are Reclaimed. The Majority of its Wastewater is discharges to the ESTUARY through this pipe.

In August 2011, Wishtoyo, its Ventura Coastkeeper Program, and Heal the Bay entered into an historic and precedent setting settlement with the City of Ventura resulting from our Clean Water Act citizen suit and Heal the Bays administrative challenge to the Citys NPDES permit. The agreement mandates that Ventura makes a net investment of $55 million to reclaim between 50% to 100% of its tertiary treated effluent by 2025 that would otherwise be discharged to the Estuary in amounts between 7 to 12 million gallons per day. Under the agreement, Ventura can only continue discharging to the estuary if extensive ecological and hydrological studies demonstrate that a particular amount of the treated effluent is needed for the Estuarys native species. Wishtoyo is heavily involved in the process to study and plan how much of the City's effluent can be reclaimed. Reclaiming the City's effluent will not only protect and restore the Santa Clara River Estuary, but holds promise to provide more in-stream flows for the Santa Clara and Ventura River by reducing Ventura's need to withdraw water from these systems or otherwise offsetting water diversions.