Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Surf science

The LA Times reports that last winter's  El Niño triggered unprecedented erosion across California's coast.

The article highlights research analyzing last year's El Nino storm track that brought us one of the best winter surf seasons on record. 

This new research confirms what we observed in Ventura: the combination of large waves and drought drove unprecedented levels of winter shoreline retreat.

the "cove" at Surfers Point in Ventura
post El Nino winter beach, 5-6-2016

the "cove" at Surfers Point in Ventura
summer beach, 6-28-2016

The drought is just one factor in sand-starved beaches.  “...we dam the rivers for flood control and say, ‘Holy crap, the sand’s not getting to the beaches anymore.”

But last year another force was in play; rising sea levels.  The paper states that "Water levels anomalies of 7–17 cm above normal were measured across the US West Coast during the El Niño winter of 2015–2016, similar to anticipated global mean sea-level increases expected within the next few decades."

This El Niño may have been a big one, but it may become “the new normal”

Which raises the question;

How will rising sea levels affect surfing in the future?

This topic is explored in a new paper titled Using local knowledge to project sea level rise impacts on wave resources in California published in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management.

This research concludes:
Map of California surf-spot vulnerability, Reineman et al

  1. Sea level rise will likely impact the quality of surf-spots; in California that impact will be a net reduction in overall wave quality at current surf-spots. 
  2. Vulnerability of surf-spots to sea level rise varies geographically, with some surf-spots and some regions experiencing more significant reductions in wave quality; due to sea level rise, roughly 18% of surf-spots evaluated here are Threatened by drowning and 16% are Endangered; 5% could improve. 
  3. Surfers' local ecological knowledge of waves constitutes a measureable source of data about environmental condition and variation. 

As sea level rises locally, surf-spots that break at low tide, or medium tide, or high-tide will be increasingly and sequentially inundated: the water will simply be too deep for them to experience their best conditions.

And perhaps most relevant to our local situation, in areas where landward migration of the beach is not permitted, either through seawalls or natural marine terraces, the beach will be "drowned."

Factors influencing surf-spot vulnerability, Reineman et al

This research relied upon surveys of thousands of surfers, who often have the best understanding of local conditions.  The paper concludes that;

Given the vast economic and cultural importance of surfing, these conclusions suggest that coastal managers should not only give credence to the wave knowledge of surfers, but also take wave quality and vulnerability into consideration, especially when planning coastal armoring, beach nourishment, or other developments, whose impacts to natural coastal processes could affect waves.

On this blog:

Surfer Magazine cover
C-St Ventura - cobble and erosion Dec 2015
Surfers Point - first real test
Surfers' Point emergency revetment


El Niño triggered unprecedented erosion across California's coast, LA Times Feb 14, 2017

Extreme oceanographic forcing and coastal response due to the 2015–2016 El Niño.  Barnard, P. L. et al. Nat. Commun. 8, 14365 doi: 10.1038/ncomms14365 (2017).

Using local knowledge to project sea level rise impacts on wave resources in California, Dan R. Reineman, Leif N. Thomas, Margaret R. Caldwell, Ocean & Coastal Management. Volume 138, 15 March 2017, Pages 181–191

Monday, February 20, 2017

Matilija Dam, after the storm...

Matilija Dam, Feb 18, 2017
flow  3,500+ cfs

2-day rainfall totals Feb 18, 2017

The storm of Friday, February 17, 2017 delivered 9-10" of rain to the Matilija Canyon watershed.  Flows in Matilja Creek peaked at 4pm with approximately 7500 cfs (cubic feet per second) flowing over the dam.  The Ventura River at Foster Park peaked over 20,000 cfs later that evening.   

The hydrograph below shows flows in Matilija Canyon exceeded 3000 cfs for more than 48 hours.  This is the perfect scenario for flushing the fine sediments from the reservoir to the ocean, as required in order to physically remove the dam.  (See Matilija Dam stakeholders select local project)

Hydrograph for February 2017 storm showing flows at
Matilija Canyon and Ventura River at Foster Park
USGS Current Conditions for USGS 11118500 VENTURA R NR ...
Studies completed last year determined that the minimum high flow event on Matilija Creek that is assumed to be able to transport the large quantities of fine sediment over a short period of time is a storm having an average daily flow of at least 1,700 cfs, corresponding to a peak daily flow of about 3,000 cfs (Stillwater Sciences, 2014b). This is approximately a 4‐year recurrence interval on Matilija Creek.

Although much work remains until the project is ready, a storm like this will exceed that required for the eventual removal of Matilija Dam.

On this blog:


Matilija reservoir upstream of the dam, Feb 18, 2017
The main flow currently enters the reservoir along the right bank (far side in this photo)

contrasting graffiti decorates the obsolete Matilija Dam 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Surfers' Point emergency revetment

In February 2016 the City of Ventura constructed a rock revetment  to protect the promenade at "C-St."  Public concern about the city’s response to erosion led to the formation of the Surfers Point
C-St emergency revetment shortly after construction
March 9, 2016
Coalition who collectively commented on a draft alternatives analysis for the emergency permit.  The coalition is working to ensure the final permit addresses potential alternatives and that any future work has the least impact to the recreational and aesthetic values of our beach.


Surfrider had contacted the City engineering department in October 2015, warning that erosion was imminent given the predicted el Nino winter surf.  Then, as predicted, on December 11, 2015, a large palm tree planter collapsed into the surf during what turnout to be the largest event of the season.  (more here: C-St Ventura - cobble and erosion Dec 2015)

Then just 7 days later, on Dec 18, 2015, the Coastal Commission issued an emergency permit to the City of Ventura.  The permit application stated :

  • an unexpected occurrence in the form of shoreline erosion is threatening to undermine and damage a portion of the Promenade, and continued erosion in addition to predicted El Nino event storm action would undermine and damage the Promenade. This occurrence requires immediate action to prevent or mitigate loss or damage to life, health, property or essential public services. 14 Cal. Admin. Code Section 13009.”
In further communications, Surfrider voiced concerns that shoreline armoring would adversely impact the beach and the high value recreational opportunities at the famed "C-St" surf break.  

Construction of the revetment was initiated on February 3, 2016 and completed on March 4, 2016.  (Note that this was AFTER the biggest swells of the season which typically arrive December-February.)

Surfer's Point Promenade Emergency Repairs
Constructed Condition (ESA Oct 3, 2015)

C-St emergency revetment March 9, 2016

C-St emergency revetment January 23, 2017

In the year it has been in place the rock revetment has already shown some wear.  This is mentioned in the Draft Alternatives Analysis document:

  • The currently-constructed condition alternative requires no change from current conditions, described in Section 2. Since construction, cobble transport to the east and degradation of revetment design under subsequent storm has occurred. A site visit on June 6, 2016 showed that the fine-grained fill at the top of the revetment had been weathered enough to expose the filter fabric and large voids in the revetment. Further images from September, 2016 indicate that erosion has continued in this area. Additionally, some shifts in the rock revetment had occurred as a consequence of wave action.   (ref: Draft Alternatives Analysis pg19)

Emergency Permit:

Under the Coastal Act, an emergency permit is conditional and requires that the permittee follow up and apply for a final permit which, among other things, requires an alternative analysis.  The city initiated this process which has so far included two "stakeholder" meetings.

Several people who had contacted the City to voice their concerns were included in these meetings, which led to the formation of the Surfers’ Point Coalition.  These stakeholders include local surfers with many years experience at Surfers’ Point, as well as expertise in ocean engineering, engineering design, project permitting, and “real world” water time.

The Coalition submitted comments to a draft Alternatives Analysis which is currently under revision.  Compatibility with the US Army Corps of Engineers requirements required an extension of the timeline, and subsequent withdrawal of the permit application.  The project will require both an Army Corps and Coastal Commission permit.

The current schedule anticipates an opportunity to review the updated analysis in April with final permit applications submitted to Corps and Coastal Commission in May.


The Surfers' Point Coalition proposed a modification to one of the alternatives presented in the analysis.

  • As noted in our comments on the Alternatives Analysis, there is merit in developing a strategy to retain cobble on the beach face at Surfers’ Point.  While the past cobble nourishment provided effective shore protection, the benefit is unfortunately short lived due to the high rate of longshore transport at the point.  The attached concept modifies the profile of the Low-Profile Groins with Cobble Nourishment alternative to better match the shoreline dynamics while minimizing the regulatory footprint.  These structures should be designed with large enough boulders such that they will withstand extreme surf conditions, serving to establish semi-permanent “pocket beaches” backfilled with cobble.  The spacing and elevation shown on the drawing should be considered a starting point for further design.

  • As the Alternatives Analysis points out, the City of Ventura has been very proactive in experimenting with alternative shore protection strategies.  Given this history, it would be appropriate at this time to develop an engineering solution that would provide multiple benefits without adversely impacting the aesthetic and recreational qualities of Surfers’ Point.  If this experimental solution proves viable, it can be duplicated along the remainder of the beach fronting the promenade as needed in the future.

This could look something like this:

What's at Risk?

Aerial view of erosion resulting from the
1991 Surfers' Point emergency revetment
History, science, and personal experience has shown that emergency responses to beach erosion can lead to piecemeal coastal armoring.  This was evident at Surfers' Point during the last erosional cycle of 1991-1995, shortly after the bike path was extended along the beach at the fairgrounds.  The emergency revetment placed in 1991 exacerbated erosion on the adjacent shoreline resulting in the closure of a damaged section of parking lot for 15 years until the managed retreat project was constructed. 

A holistic approach that considers the shoreline as a contiguous system is required to effectively manage the coast.  Otherwise the public beach will slowly be replaced with progressively larger rocks in response to each erosion episode, forever changing the character of this valued resource.    

More information:

On this blog:
C-Street, Ventura - more cobble berms
C-St Ventura - cobble and erosion Dec 2015

Monday, January 30, 2017

January storms renew the river

Jan 23, 2017 Satellite water vapor image shows
"atmospheric river" directed at Southern California  
The Pacific high finally broke down in later January 2017 to allow a series of storms to deliver much-needed rainfall to the Ventura River watershed.  Totals of up to 5 inches for the storms, and 15-20 inches for the season, brought the river back to life after five years of prolonged drought.

2-day rainfall totals Jan 23, 2017

On Jan 20,  I witnessed first-hand the "flash flood" effect following Friday morning's downpour.  The photos below show flood flows at upstream sites on the Ventura River, but when I arrived at Foster Park the flows were just getting there...

Hwy 150 bridge looking upstream
Jan 20, 2017: 11:41am

Santa Ana bridge looking upstream
Jan 20, 2017: 11:47am

Foster Park above bridge
Jan 20, 2017: 11:57 am
"first flush" arriving
Foster Park above bridge
Jan 20, 2017:  12:02 pm
flows rising within 5 minutes

The video shows the first "flush" of water as it passes under the Foster Park bridge and flows rapidly rise.  If you listen carefully you can hear the Arundo snapping as the flows surge downstream for the first time since 2011.

Sunday's storm was the bigger event, and once the rains stopped many people went out to witness the river come back to life.

Hwy 150 Bridge
Sunday Jan 22, 2017: 3:37pm

Cozy Del Creek flooding N Rice Road

Cozy Del Creek flowing through
Ventura River Preserve

McDonald Drain flowing into
Ventura River Preserve

The three main inflows to Lake Casitas are Santa Ana Creek, Coyote Creek, and the Robles Diversion which delivers water diverted from above the Ventura River Preserve.  Of the three, Coyote Creek appeared to deliver the largest inflows.  Erosional waves were calving off large sections of the steep creek banks, certainly contributing sediment to the lake.  

Santa Ana Creek Bridge - flows into Lake Casitas
Sunday Jan 22, 2017

Coyote Creek flowing through drain under
Hwy 150 and into Lake Casitas

Robles Diversion Canal
flowing into lake Casitas

At Robles Diversion, Casitas Water District experienced problems as floating debris clogged the diversion screens resulting in mechanical difficulties and limiting the amount of water diverted.  According to their website;
 Water from the Ventura River is redirected into the Lake via the Robles Canal and the local watershed. The latest rain event has produced the largest diversions since 2011. Flows in the Ventura River need to be maintain for a given period before diversions can occur. This is due to regulatory requirements related to fish and other water agencies downstream that rely on the rivers flow as well. Diversions lasted for little more than two days, starting on Sunday, January 22, 2017, resulting in increasing lake volume from 35.3 to 36.7%. We will need a lot more rain this year before we are able to recover from the last five years of drought. Continued water conservation needs to be maintained.   

Map of Lake Casitas area showing Coyote Creek and Santa Ana Creek drainages
Excerpt from  http://venturawatershed.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Drainage_Network1.pdf

This hydrograph illustrates how quickly the river rises in response to a storm.  It also shows that now that the ground is saturated the "base flow" of the river in response to this series of storms is maintaining at a level greater than had we only had Friday's rains. 

Ventura River flows at Foster Park
January 19-26, 2017

Following the storms Casitas Water District reported a 3 ft rise in lake level, and the Ventura River Water District reported an 8 ft increase in groundwater levels.  This represents the beginning of a recharge cycle, and as long as the river and creeks are flowing we will continue to recharge our water supplies.

And of course this flush was enough to open the river mouth and put a bit more sand and cobble on the beach!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ojai Quarry update

Channelkeeper secured long-term habitat and water quality protections for North Fork Matilija Creek last month, when the Ventura County Planning Division adopted new conditions for the continued operation of the Ojai Quarry. Erosion and rock slides from the steep slopes at the Ojai Quarry have historically impacted critical habitat for endangered steelhead trout in the creek. In 2013, Channelkeeper and the Environmental Defense Center filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that inadequate stormwater management practices at the quarry were violating requirements of the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. We reached a settlement in 2014, and the quarry agreed to implement a suite of new features and practices to prevent landslides and minimize erosion and impacts to water quality.

Channelkeeper coordinated extensively with the Ventura County Planning Division to ensure that these measures were incorporated into the quarry's recently updated Conditional Use Permit, so the County itself will now require these measures to protect habitat and water quality for the duration of the quarry's new 30-year permit. Channelkeeper's ongoing monitoring indicates that the new measures are working to protect the creek, and we will continue to monitor their implementation and effectiveness moving forward.


Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper - Ojai Quarry

On this blog:

 Ojai Quarry

more #ResurrectTheRiver

Read more to learn more about Channelkeeper’s efforts to protect the Ventura River from over-pumping, and sign the petition to show your support:  RESTORING FLOWS IN THE RIVER

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Matilija Dam State Prop 1 grant

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it will award $3.3 million to the Matilija Dam project.

The grant was part of $40 million in Proposition 1 funds awarded for "water quality, river and watershed protection, and restoration projects for vital waterways throughout California."  Proposition 1 was passed by California voters in 2014.

This grant will be administered by the Ventura County Watershed Protection District to complete engineering design and environmental permitting for the dam removal project.  A three-year timeframe will result in a "shovel ready" project by 2020.

The successful Prop 1 grant proposal was compiled by county staff with support from the Matilija Coalition, California Trout, and the Ventura River Watershed coordinator, along with other agency support.

These efforts are coordinated by the Matilija Dam Funding Committee, which was formed earlier this year following the consensus agreement on the dam removal project.

In the news:

CDFW Awards $40 Million for Ecosystem and Watershed Restoration and Protection Projects, CDFW news

County gets $3 million for Matiljia Dam removal, VCStar 12-26-2016

Grant approved in effort to remove Matilija Dam, VC Reporter 12-28-2016