Senior Canyon Mutual Water Company (SCMWC) is a small, nonprofit mutual water company formed in 1929. SCMWC is a “public water system” water purveyor as defined in the California Waterworks Standards. The Company has two full-time employees and two part-time employees, and is managed by a seven-member volunteer board of directors. The company encompasses about 3.5 square miles in the East End of the Ojai Valley, and provides both domestic and agricultural water to 230 shareholders. SCMWC generates agricultural water from five wells and potable water from three surface sources. The Company also maintains a potable water intertie with Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) that is engaged when the Company cannot produce enough water to meet its demand.
In 1929, the newly incorporated Senior Canyon Mutual Water Company began digging a horizontal well into the side of a mountain high up in Senior Canyon in the east end of the Ojai Valley. The beginning point of the drilling was picked by a Stanford geologist, Bailey Willis, and the project was managed by Arnold Long, who had managed similar tunnel jobs in Montecito, a suburb of Santa Barbara about thirty-five miles north of Ojai.
On December 9, 1929, at a tunnel depth of 1,555 feet, the fissures in the fractured rock began to spout water at a rate of 50 miners inches, or about 450 gallons per minute. Two days later, the flow increased to 75 miners inches or about 675 gallons per minute. The water flowed out of the fissures in the ceiling, walls, and floor of the tunnel. Historical reports are lacking that describe how this original flow changed over time, but it is generally understood that the tunnel has never stopped producing water with the historical minimum being 60 gallons per minute. When there is sufficient rainfall, tunnel production can increase to more than 300 gallons per minute. Over the years, the quality of this water has been, and still is, outstanding with excellent taste and clarity.
In the late 1980s, a cave-in occurred at 2,390 feet from the tunnel entrance. This cave-in remains today and obstructs the passage to the rest of the tunnel that is believed to be another 1,100 feet in, making a total depth of 3,500 feet.
In the 1990s, following another long drought, the Senior Canyon Board of Directors hired a renowned geologist and mining engineer, Dr. James J. Scott, to investigate the tunnel in hopes of increasing production. Dr. Scott’s opinion was that the tunnel was the Company’s richest asset, and should be preserved as the valuable water source that it had been for more than 60 years. Dr. Scott proposed three strategies for increasing production: 1) sealing the tunnel floor; 2) descaling the water-producing areas; and 3) drilling boreholes into the water-producing fracture zones. Scott believed that carrying out these tactics would conservatively result in a doubling of production.
Since Dr. Scott’s report, the Senior Canyon Board of Directors has regarded the tunnel renovation as a priority; however, the necessary funds have not been available to carry out Scott’s recommendations. With the recent extended drought as well as the Company’s stronger financial position, Senior Canyon is now ready to begin efforts to carry out these measures to hopefully mitigate some of the effects that the drought has caused and to provide high-quality water well into the future.