Thursday, July 12, 2018

Grand Jury on Dam Safety

New information has been released on dam safety in Ventura County.  A report compiled by the Ventura County Grand Jury finds that there does not appear to be any effort by the dam owners or the OES to educate the public as to the potential inundation areas, evacuation routes, or what to do in the event of a dam failure.

The report summary states:

In light of the 2017 failure of the spillway at Oroville Dam, the 2017-2018 Ventura County Grand
Jury (Grand Jury) investigated the condition of more than 20 dams in or adjoining Ventura County. The Grand Jury found that 14 of these dams could cause significant loss of life and property if they failed. Four of these dams, all under the jurisdiction of the State of California Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD), are identified as having existing or potential deficiencies. The Grand Jury investigated the reasons for the deficiencies and what efforts are being made to correct them.

On Matilija Dam, the Grand Jury discovered that:

FA-07. The Ventura County Watershed Protection District (VCWPD) owns and operates the Matilija Dam [capacity 3,800 acre-feet], which received a “Poor” rating by the DSOD. The DSOD rating was based on concerns as to the ability of the dam, specifically issues related to the wing walls, to withstand a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. While the analysis did not appear to indicate complete failure, it indicated a likelihood of significant weakening. VCWPD’s subsequent analysis did not indicate the same level of damage. Even so, the VCWPD, with concurrence from DSOD, agrees that removing the upper wing walls could significantly stabilize the dam. For that reason, VCWPD has applied for a $2-million hazard mitigation grant from FEMA to remove the wing walls. The district is continuing its quarterly monitoring program of the dam and will be taking core samples later this year to ensure that it has up-to-date information as to the dam’s integrity.

FA-08. The VCWPD is working on a plan to remove Matilija Dam. The plan faces technical and environmental challenges and has yet to be finalized or approved by regulatory agencies. The VCWPD would use property tax money and is seeking additional funding to complete the demolition. Depending on the method used to dismantle the dam and dispose of the sediment, the costs could range from $111 million to $208 million. Funding has not been obtained, and the removal has not been environmentally cleared. (Ref-07, Ref-08)

FA-09. There are roughly 8 million cubic yards of debris behind Matilija Dam. There is a concern that a big storm will push huge amounts of mud and water over the top, overwhelming bridges, culverts and roads below. (Ref-09)

C-02. The Grand Jury concluded that the VCWPD has identified structural issues regarding the Matilija Dam. The district is working to remove the dam. Pending obtaining funding and final approval of required environmental clearances, the dam may continue to be a threat. (FA-07, FA-08, FA-09)


R-01. The Grand Jury recommends that the OES track the progress of remedial action taken at Matilija Dam, Santa Felicia Dam, Castaic Dam, and Bouquet Canyon Dam. Reports of progress should be made to the BOS annually. (C-01, C02, C-03, C-04, C-05)
R-02. The Grand Jury recommends that the OES consider working with dam owners and cities to develop and widely distribute dam failure inundation maps and other information to assist residents in planning for responses to dam failures. (C-06, C-07, C-08)
R-03. The Grand Jury recommends that the OES consider working with dam owners and cities to pursue placement of signage and sirens within the inundation areas. (C-07, C-08, C-09)
R-04. The Grand Jury recommends that the OES work more closely with DSOD to monitor and evaluate safety for dams in or affecting Ventura County. (C-10)
R-05. The Grand Jury recommends the BOS direct the Public Works Department to provide technical assistance, as appropriate, to the OES, augmenting its expertise in dam safety and operation. (C-10)

In the news: 

The Ventura County Grand Jury is calling for tightened oversight of area dams and community education on how to respond to a dam failure after investigating the safety of the critical structures.


Select references from this report listed here for convenience:

Ref-03. Ventura County OES Web page on Dam Failure

Ref-04. Flood Mitigation Plan for Ventura County, California, Ventura County Watershed Protection District. March 1, 2005.

Ref-08. Matilija Dam Removal and Ecosystem Restoration Project Funding Plan, April 2017. Matilija Dam Design Oversight Group. http://dev.matilija- Plan_FINAL.pdf.

Ref-09. Ojai residents take stock of their blessings and vulnerability after surviving the Thomas fire. Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2018. fire-20180108-story.html

Friday, June 8, 2018

Conserving California’s Coastal Habitats

New report from the Nature Conservancy and California Coastal Conservancy:  

Conserving California’s Coastal Habitats: A Legacy and a Future with Sea Level Rise.

This statewide assessment quantifies and maps the vulnerability of California’s coastal habitats, imperiled species, and conservation lands to sea level rise, as well as opportunities for conservation strategies to maintain coastal habitat area in the face of sea level rise. 

Surfers' Point is highlighted as an example of retreat strategies as a response to sea level rise.


Heady, W. N., B. S. Cohen, M. G. Gleason, J. N. Morris, S. G. Newkirk, K. R. Klausmeyer, H. Walecka, E. Gagneron, M. Small. 2018. Conserving California’s Coastal Habitats: A Legacy and a Future with Sea Level Rise. The Nature Conservancy, San Francisco, CA; California State Coastal Conservancy, Oakland, CA. 143 pages.

The report can be downloaded here:

Friday, April 27, 2018

Water supply 2018

The ongoing drought has water managers and community members paying much closer attention to our water supply.  Although the signs of unsustainability have been evident for years, the extended drought, and now the impacts of the Thomas Fire, have brought the issue to the forefront of discussions in the watershed.

Aquifer & Reservoir levels, Sept 2017 - courtesy Ventura River Water District

The significance of this downward trend in water supply is evident.  We only received 11" this winter.  And although demand has been reduced by up to 30% in some sectors, it is likely that we will see Stage 5 drought declared this year, which would prohibit outdoor irrigation.

Also significant is that fact that the Ventura River Watershed is independent of imported water, a unique circumstance in Southern California where water imports have fueled unsustainable population growth.  Until now, this independence has been perceived as a benefit.  The primary goal of the Ventura River Watershed Management Plan, published in March 2015, is:

  • Sufficient Local Water Supplies. Sufficient local water supplies to allow continued independence from imported water and reliably support ecosystem and human (including urban and agricultural) needs in the watershed now and in the future, through wise water management.

The watershed plan lists a variety of potential projects, including stormwater capture, conservation, and reuse strategies.  While a few projects have been pursued to date, there is now increased pressure to develop new supply.  And although local agencies all endorsed this plan, the goal of independence has lost priority.

What's the plan?

Local water agencies are working on new supply projects.

The City of Ventura is pursuing a strategy that includes wastewater recycling, ocean desalination, and connection to State Water.  These projects are in the early stages of environmental review, with Notice of Preparation circulated in late 2017 early 2018.

The projects would develop new water supplies to augment the City’s water supply portfolio consistent with the City’s recently completed 2017 Comprehensive Water Resources Report (CWRR) and 2015 Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). Some of these projects also constitute "Diversion Infrastructure Projects" as that term is defined in the Consent Decree, filed with the U.S. Central California District Court February 3, 2012 between the City, Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper, and Heal the Bay for the protection of the Santa Clara River Estuary.

Central to this strategy is the VenturaWaterPure Project which consists of an Advance Water Purification Facility (AWPF),  product water conveyance pipeline, and proposed groundwater extraction and injection wells. The project also includes construction of a new concentrate discharge pipeline, with an outfall to the ocean.  The Ocean Desalination Project would be sited at the same location as the VenturaWaterPure AWPF.

The project would enable delivery of State Water Project (SWP) water by wheeling water through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and Calleguas Municipal Water District (Calleguas) water systems to the City of Ventura. The connection would also facilitate direct delivery of SWP water to United Water Conservation District (United) and direct or in-lieu1 delivery of SWP water to Casitas Municipal Water District (Casitas). In addition, the interconnection would allow the City to deliver water to Calleguas during an outage of its imported water supplies. The interconnection would be a pipeline used to transport water between Calleguas’ and the City’s distribution systems.

Casitas Municipal Water District:

Casitas (CMWD) operates Lake Casitas as surface storage which serves as a primary and backup water supply to all users in the watershed.  As illustrated above, the reservoir is approaching all-time low levels.

Casitas is partnering with the City of Ventura on the State Water interconnection as described above.  Other projects under consideration include:

  • Matilija Formation Horizontal Bores (HoBo's)
  • Ojai East Septic Collection, package Treatment, Recharge
  • Pipeline from Matilija Chlorinator to Matilija Hot Springs
  • Renovate Senior canyon Mutual Horizontal Well
  • Ojai Desalter project

CMWD also identified lower priority projects:

  • Scalping Plant for Wastewater Reuse at Ojai Valley Inn
  • Fire Hydrant Flush water Reuse
  • Matilija Dam Groundwater/Surface Water
  • Debris Basin Enhanced Percolation
  • Santa Ana Road Underground Stream
  • Environmental/Habitat Modifications

All of these projects are described more detail in the Preliminary Water Security Analysis, Casitas Municipal Water District, Nov 4, 2016.

Matilija Formation Horizontal Bores, "HoBo's"

Citizen Organizations:

Ojai FLOW: this organization was successful in the effort to gain local control over water supplied to the City of Ojai.  CMWD now operates the infrastructure previously owned by Golden State Water.

Save Our Water Ventura:  Activities of the society and the economy should occur within the limits of the greater environmental system and improve -not weaken - its quality.

Ojai Valley Water Advisory GroupThe purpose of this small 4-person group (Larry Yee, Rosalie Zabilla, Richard Hajas, Peter Thielke) was to analyze the growing water crisis situation in the Ojai Valley brought on by 5 straight years of drought and a seriously low-level Lake Casitas and to explore possible scenarios and solutions. The group released the OVWAG Proposal in February, 2018.   The "Three Sisters" proposal advocates for collaboration between CMWD, Ventura Water, and Calleguas Municipal Water District to increase Ventura County's water supply reliability.

Ventura Water Commission:  A Citizen Advisory Commission to local government:
The Water Commission shall have the power; and it shall be its duty; to review and make advisory recommendations regarding water rates; water resources infrastructure projects in the 5-year capital improvement program; the integrated water resources management plan; water supply options; the Urban Water Management Plan approval process; a water dedication and in-lieu fee requirement; and other water resource issues. 

In the news:

8 debate future of Ojai's water supply, Lake Casitas, Ventura County Star, April 16, 2018

.        Opinion: Integrated water supply

Experts, officials debate water supply in Western Ventura County, VCReporter, 4-18-2018

Why Ojai is moving towards state water in April 2018, Ojai Valley Green Coalition, 5-18-2018

Ventura won't turn wastewater into drinking water just yet, VC Star 7-10-2018

On this blog:  Drought and water supply

Surfrider Foundation position on local water supply - "Surfrider believes that our community can and should learn to live within the natural limits of our surroundings by optimizing the management of our most precious resource: fresh water."



Friday, April 13, 2018

March Rains - fires, flood, drought, and sand

Matilija Dam, March 22, 2018

They aren't calling it a "March miracle," but to many of us it felt like it.  A fairly steady wet period delivered around 8" of rain to the Ojai Valley, and rescued this year from the record books.  Seasonal totals range from 6" in Ventura, to over 11" in Ojai, with Matilija Canyon receiving over 16". This is just a bit less than half the "average" rainfall for our watershed. 

Water supply, April 1 2018   (from Ventura River Water District) 

The Ventura River Water District monitors levels in the Upper Ventura River Groundwater basin as well as Lake Casitas.   Note that the groundwater (blue line) responds quickly to rainfall compared to the large volume of the reservoir.  This graph shows the general downward trend in water storage, which unfortunately was not helped much with this season's rainfall.  

Water managers are also concerned that the Thomas Fire is impacting supply.  Huge volumes of ash and silt eroded from the burned landscape and deposited within the riverbed, possibly hindering infiltration into the underground aquifer.    So far this year the blue line shows a  relatively small uptick compared with past seasons.   

The March rains did mobilize a bit more ash, but more noticeably the river has again remained turbid (brown) for an extended period due to high levels of silt eroding from the bare mountainsides.

Flows remain high and silty in the Ventura River Preserve, March 30, 2018

This hydrograph for the month of March (thru April 13) shows flows at Foster Park (green line...8500) and below Matilija Dam (red line...4495).  The graph clearly shows storm peaks throughout the month, with the final storm registering around 4000 cfs.   This plot also confirms observations that river flows have remained relatively high following the final storm.  This may indicate significant changes in the hydrology of the watershed due to the Thomas Fire.  On the other hand, USGS data show that flows are now comparable with the historic median. The Upper Ventura River Groundwater Sustainability Agency (UVRGSA) recently commissioned studies to monitor and assess the situation.  

Flows at Foster Park, Spring 2018

Ventura Rivermouth, March 28, 2018

Finally, this aerial view of the rivermouth also shows silty water flowing into the ocean at Surfers' Point.   Not surprisingly,  Surfrider Ventura's new Blue Water Task Force and County testing found poor ocean water quality following the rains.  But look at that sand!

The gun turrets are now buried with sand, showing how the delta has grown compared with Ventura river mouth after the 2017 flood.  With fire and flood, a flowing river and eroding hillsides make for wider beaches...

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Living Shorelines

The "Living Shorelines" concept for bay and estuarine management has been gaining momentum as an alternative to traditional coastal engineering.  The Surfers' Point Managed Shoreline Retreat project is often cited as a rare application of this approach on a high energy shoreline.

In 2017, the Resilient Coastlines Project led by the San Diego Climate Collaborative "brought together local decision makers and scientists to engage in thoughtful discussion and brainstorming for how to enhance the natural coastal landscape of our region, while building community resilience. Three workshops brought 150 regional leaders together in San Diego, Costa Mesa, and Santa Barbara."

The conclusion of these workshops was that:

  • "In Southern California, living shoreline projects are largely in the planning, designing, and early construction phases, so there is still much to be learned about the expanding practice. The participants in the Southern California Living Shoreline workshops represent leaders in our region and together they are laying the groundwork for advancing expertise and knowledge about living shorelines."

What is a Living Shoreline?

from the summary report:

Participants agreed that the term “living shoreline” is not easily defined but is an important concept for not only natural resource managers to understand but for city planners and government officials to embrace as they move forward with community plans. In its most basic form, a living shoreline must provide habitat while physically protecting the shoreline.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a living shoreline is “a broad term that encompasses a range of shoreline stabilization techniques along estuarine coasts, bays, sheltered coastlines, and tributaries. NOAA further elaborates:

  • “[A] living shoreline has a footprint that is made up mostly of native material. It incorporates vegetation or other living, natural “soft” elements alone or in combination with some type of harder shoreline structure (e.g. oyster reefs or rock sills) for added stability. Living shorelines maintain continuity of the natural land–water interface and reduce erosion while providing habitat value and enhancing coastal resilience.”

The California State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) which has been the leading funder for pilot living shorelines projects in California, outlined four main principles for living shorelines: 
  1. restore with multiple benefits; 
  2. protect and enhance habitat values for fish and wildlife; 
  3. adapt to sea level rise and climate change; 
  4. link to regional habitat recommendations.
Living shoreline approaches began on the East Coast, where projects have been demonstrated and tested significantly more than on the West Coast. However, many of these model approaches are not applicable to Southern California because this region experiences high wave energy, seasonal El Nino storm events, and King Tide events. Successful living shoreline approaches also need to consider the uniqueness of Southern California coastal habitats and the fact that its coastal and ocean landscapes are heavily used and developed. Some potentially suitable approaches have recently been designed and tested in Southern California conditions. Examples of these early pilot projects include: The Cardiff Dune Restoration Project, the Santa Monica Beach Restoration Project, the San Diego Bay Native Oyster Restoration Project, and Ventura’s Surfers Point.


Letting nature do the work for you:

As a living shoreline protects the coastline, natural weather events or seasonal cycles may damage the project site in the short-term but if it’s truly resilient it should be able to bounce back and restore itself to a functioning natural ecosystem.

Space constraints along urban coastlines:

Many participants expressed their idea of an ideal project integrating some form of “retreat” or “relocation” of infrastructure to create space for restoring natural coastal processes that can accommodate changing conditions. 

Living shorelines and phased sea level rise planning: 

Given the close proximity of development to Southern California shorelines it’s important to keep in mind that a living shoreline doesn’t need to be the final answer to sea level rise but may be a short term or mid-term option within a long-term vision.

Designing with watersheds and sediment management in mind:

participants were quick to discuss the importance of designing and monitoring coastal projects in the context of the broader watershed, especially when it comes to sediment management. Projects in the upper watershed (e.g., dams) can have huge implications for how much and what kind of sediment reaches our beaches to naturally replenish the sand supply.

Citizen science and socio-ecological monitoring:

Locals and tourists can be involved in monitoring activities through citizen science initiatives, and can even assist with long- term upkeep helping to lower maintenance costs by creating volunteer groups and involving students.

Next Steps:

  • Southern California needs demonstration projects 
  • Demonstration projects will need to incorporate long-term monitoring plans 
  • Monitoring should go beyond biological monitoring to ensure that information on the socio-economic benefits 
  • Consistent funding sources for both maintenance and monitoring will need to be identified
  • Permitting will need to be streamlined to support experimentation


Boudreau, D., Engeman, L., & Ross, E. (2018). Living Shorelines and Resilience in Southern California: Workshop Series Summary Report. San Diego, CA: Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve; San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative.

Living Shoreline Workshop series:

Guidance for Considering the Use of Living Shorelines (2015), NOAA: 2015.pdf

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Surfers' Point update Spring 2017

Managed Shoreline Retreat

The Surfers Point Working Group has been assessing grant opportunities and a strategy for moving forward to complete the Managed Retreat project.  The group met in June and again in September, 2017.

The working group provided an update to the Ventura County Fair Board at their meeting on February 27, 2018.   After some discussion, the board voted unanimously to endorse their CEO to provide support to current and future grant applications.

On behalf of the Working Group, BEACON has applied for a grant from the Ocean Protection Council Proposition 1 Grant Program.  BEACON (Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment), is a California Joint Powers Agency (JPA) established in 1986 to address coastal erosion, beach nourishment and clean oceans within the Central California Coast from Point Conception to Point Mugu.  This request for Planning and Design funding is to  “...address the outstanding issues and develop a final design and engineering plan that is ready for implementation.”

The OPC guidelines identify climate change, ocean pollution prevention, and sea level rise as priorities. In addition to the Priority Areas for funding described in Section 1.5, the OPC has "a strong preference for projects that are: innovative; demonstrate new approaches or solutions to ocean and coastal problems; employ community-based approaches; and/or address important unmet needs or gaps".

If successful, this funding will inject $355,000 in consulting services for final design, planning and engineering to deliver a shovel ready project.   Additional federal funding is earmarked for the project implementation, and project completion is attainable with matching state and local funds.

The City of Ventura and BEACON will be contributing both funding ($50,000 City of Ventura) and in-kind professional and consultant services (City of Ventura and BEACON staff and consultants) equal to at least 25% of the total project budget. The Surfrider Foundation continues to contribute funding and volunteer time in ongoing dune restoration program in partnership with the city's Volunteer Ventura program.

Dune Stewardship

The Ventura Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation continues to organize volunteer workdays to manage the dunes constructed during Phase 1
of the Managed Retreat project.  Typically these events address non-native plants as they sprout in the springtime.  This year's first event was held on Feb 17, with another scheduled for 9 a.m. on Saturday April 7th.  Volunteers may sign up here.

Spreading the word

The Surfers' Point Managed Shoreline Retreat project is one of the most-cited examples of coastal management in the State of California.  But this January, the State of Hawaii Office of Planning hosted a managed retreat symposium exploring the feasibility of a managed retreat framework for the State of Hawaii.  The symposium included a variety of speakers and participants including a presentation on Surfers' Point.

The project was also showcased last week at the 5th Global Wave Conference held in Santa Cruz, California.  Consulting engineer Louis White spoke about the project during a session on "Climate Change and Innovation."  This session may be viewed here.

More on this blog: Surfers' Point



Ventura County Fair Board

California Ocean Protection Council (OPC),

State of Hawaii, Office of Planning, Managed Retreat Symposium January 11, 2018.

5th Global Wave Conference , Santa Cruz, CA, March 4-7, 2018.

Volunteer Ventura, Surfers Point Dune Maintenance, volunteer signup

Ventura Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation

Monday, February 12, 2018

County Approves Matilija Dam Contract

Feb 6, 2018 - The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a contract for technical studies on Matilija Dam removal.  This is the first phase of the work plan funded through a $3.3 million California Department of Fish and Wildlife Proposition 1 grant received by the county in May, 2017.

This dam removal feasibility study will include:

  • Field Investigations of Reservoir Fine Sediment and Evaluation of Dam Concrete
  • Structural Evaluation of Orifice Alternative
  • Sediment Transport Modeling
  • Hydraulic Studies Based on Sediment Modeling 
  • Re-evaluation of Downstream Project Components 
  • Assessment of Flushing Storm Events
  • Dam Removal Concept – 10% Level Design
  • Updated Structural Analysis of Dam

The $822,302 contract with engineering firm AECOM is Phase 1 of the $3.3 million Matilija Dam Removal 65% Planning Design Project.

Field work is to commence 7/7/2018 with The Final Dam Removal Feasibility Report to be completed by 07/11/2019.

In the news:

Ojai Valley News Feb 8, 2018

More on this blog:     Matilija Dam