The case of the missing underground water

las-posas-basin-map.jpgAP reporters Michael Blood and Elliot Spagat investigated what happened when state water was stored in an underground aquifer in Ventura County — the water vanished. "They had a great vision," the county's water director said of the scheme's promoters. "It doesn't work the way they told us it would work." Two decades and $150 million later, the idea to bank water in the Las Posas Basin Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project seems a bust. From Blood and Spagat's AP story:

Imagine a bathtub beneath the earth. If geologic conditions are right, water can be added to such a basin, supplementing naturally occurring groundwater and creating a reserve for future use, much like a water tank.

But at Las Posas, water instead disappeared.

The project, now owned solely by wholesaler Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County, promised to raise local groundwater levels up to 300 feet. Yet groundwater levels dropped steeply when the system went into operation, potentially threatening supplies for nearby residents, ranches and businesses that also draw water from the basin.

"The teacup appears to have a leak in it," said Robert Eranio, general manager of the nearby Crestview Mutual Water Co., a Calleguas buyer that pipes water to homes.

An Associated Press review of government documents, along with dozens of interviews, found that the venture was marred by insufficient research, poor judgment and hollow assurances – all with a hefty price tag for ratepayers. The cost, estimated in 1995 at $47 million, has gradually tripled to about $150 million. More than $56 million in long-term debt remains.

Graphic: Calleguas Municipal Water District

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Water stories on LA Observed:
Shade balls
Mass evacuation below Oroville Dam
The Mighty Los Angeles (River) was roaring on Sunday
Time for some weather geeking
Documenting Kenya and The Samburu Project
DWP promises Silver Lake to start refilling next May
Silver Lake residents 'had faith in DWP's promises'
The state of our overheated minds on the environment