An innovative groundwater market in Ventura County, Calif., that was initiated by California Lutheran University (Thousand Oaks) has captured the attention of some of the most prestigious universities in the nation, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge); the University of California, Berkeley; and the California Institute of Technology (Pasadena).

It’s also attracted the interest—and a visit from—Australian leaders who run a similar exchange in that country, said Edgar Terry, a fourth-generation farmer and adjunct professor at California Lutheran who helped launch the project.

Worth noting is that not only did the project receive a $1.9 million grant, it was the single largest Conservation Innovation Grant in 2017 among 33 projects that received a total of $22.6 million in funding, said Matthew Fienup, executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting ​​​at California Lutheran University.

The grant is validation of the importance of the work that Ventura County water users are doing, Fienup said. “It demonstrates that the challenging work done here can be used as a model for water users in the other regions of the state who are struggling with the same challenges.”

Still, the most gratifying aspect of this endeavor has been working with the diverse set of stakeholders represented in the water market group, specifically farmers, city representatives and an influential environmental conservation organization, Fienup said.

“Watching farmers, cities and environmentalists work together, listen to one another, disagree—sometimes strongly—with one another, and then develop consensus around a set of policy recommendations is simply extraordinary,” Fienup said. “The degree of collaboration between these groups is a tremendous testament to the quality of people who call Ventura County home.”

Cindy Uken
Cindy Uken is a veteran, award-winning reporter based in Palm Springs, Calif. She has worked at USA Today, as well as newspapers in South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and California.

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