Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DamNation film

Patagonia's film about our nation's dam problem has been on tour this spring and racking up the awards:
Winner – SXSW Audience Choice Award
Winner – Documentary Award for Environmental Advocacy, DC Environmental Film Festival
Winner – Mountainfilm Audience Choice Award
Winner – Best of Festival, 5Point Film Festival

On Thursday, June 5, Patagonia presented the award-winning, feature length documentary DamNation,  at Patagonia Retail Stores in 23 cities nationwide.

Our local Great Pacific Iron Works sponsored the evening event in Ventura.  The community came out in force, over 500 people packed into the outdoor "tin shed" courtyard behind the retail store.  After the film the Q&A featuring Yvon Chouinard and Paul Jenkin drew many informed questions from an audience that was fired up to help remove our local deadbeat dam, Matilija Dam.  Proceeds from the sales of donated Stone Brewery beer and a Patagonia product raffle went to support the Matilija Coalition!

The Matilia Coalition was also part of the May 21 showing at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara.  That event also sold out with over 600 attending!

Starting on June 6, DamNation is now available at Vimeo On Demand for digital viewing. DamNation will be available to rent ($5.99) or buy ($9.99) for viewing on almost any device.  Also check out the Patagonia Collection on Vimeo On Demand.

Surrounding the film’s appearances at festivals and other events around the country since March, Patagonia has asked people to get involved and ask President Obama to authorize studies on removing four problematic lower dams on the Snake River. To date, over 25,000 people have signed the petition asking the administration to “crack down on deadbeat dams” – signatures that will be delivered to the White House at a later date.

Since its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on March, DamNation has been hailed by The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, National Geographic and Time Magazine. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard recently published an op-ed in The New York Times arguing for the removal of low value, high cost dams.

Aside from telling the story of our endanger salmon runs and the recent large dam removals, the film is a must-see for anyone with lingering curiosity about the scissors on Matilija Dam!



Matilija Dam meetings May 28, 2014

On May 28, 2014, the Matilija Dam Design Oversight Group (DOG) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met.  The morning was spent summarizing the recent history of the project and updating the DOG on the consultant hiring process and recent work products, while the afternoon was dedicated to receiving technical input on the next steps.  The complete presentations from this meeting as well as the technical references are downloadable from the project website at

The details for the events on this recent timeline are summarized on this blog.  The short version is that the project got bogged down in 2007-2008 over the proposed management of the fine sediment that is trapped behind Matilija Dam.  The federal feasibility study included a dredge-and-slurry system to physically move this fine sediment downstream of the Robles Diversion Dam which diverts water into Lake Casitas.  Construct-ability and cost concerns led to the formation of the Fine Sediment Study Group which recommended further analysis of alternatives to the slurry system.  These studies are now underway under the guidance of the TAC. The work is being performed by a combined consultant team from two firms, URS and Stillwater Sciences, both of whom have considerable experience with other major dam removal and river restoration projects in the western United States.

The meeting included an overview of the study process from URS, as well as more technical presentations from Stillwater Sciences.

Seth Genzler, project manager for URS, explained the current scope of work for the studies that are expected to be completed in early 2015.
  • Task 1: Dam Removal Plans and Cost Estimates 
    • a) Task 1.1: Background Review & Concept Matrix
    • b) Task 1.2: Initial Options Screening
    • c) Task 1.3: Full Dam Removal Concepts Evaluation
  • Task 2: Sediment Analysis
    • a) Task 2.1: Hydrologic Assessment
    • b) Task 2.2: Sediment Characterization
    • c) Task 2.3: Initial Options Sediment Analysis
    • d) Task 2.4: Full Dam Removal Sediment Analysis
  • Task 3: Robles Diversion Mitigation 
    • a) Task 3.1: Background Material Review
    • b) Task 3.2: Hydrologic Assessment for Water Supply
    • c) Task 3.3: Robles Mitigation Concept Evaluation

Derek Booth (Stillwater) presented a summary of the recently completed Hydrology and Sediment Characterization Reports that provide an overview of the river hydrology and sediment transport with the goal of providing some insight to reservoir sediment management under various dam removal scenarios.  He proposed a set of hydrographs to be used in the sediment transport modeling to represent varied water years.  The analysis demonstrated that flows at Matilija Dam are approximately 1/3 of those downstream at Foster Park.  Note the very steep hydrographs typical of our "flashy" river system.  This illustrates both the very high peak flows (with high potential for sediment transport) as well as the very short window of opportunity for natural sediment transport.

One of the primary considerations in plan formulation for the removal of Matilija Dam is the operations of the Robles Diversion Dam, located about 2 miles downstream.  An analysis of actual diversion rates over the past two decades revealed that Robles accounts for approximately 28% of the water stored in the reservoir.  (Note that previous planning had been based upon the assumption of 45% contribution from Robles.)

Stillwater also conducted an analysis of the sediment currently impounded upstream of Matilija Dam.

Based on recent LIDAR surveys and pre dam topography Stillwater estimates there are now 6.8 million cubic yards of sediment contained in the "wedge" upstream of the dam.  (Analysis conducted a decade ago estimated 6 million cubic yards, indicating that additional sediment may have accumulated since then.) As illustrated below, approximately 65% of this is a mix of fine silt, clay, and sand, while the 35% further upstream is coarser grained cobble, gravel, and sand.

The question above was posed based on an analysis that predicts 99% of natural sediment transport in the river to be fine sediment. The answer is that the dam has actually trapped very little of the fine sediment from Matilija Canyon, the majority of which flushes over the dam during flood events as illustrated in this photo.

The afternoon Technical Advisory Committee meeting reviewed the Initial Screening Process and a Concept Matrix developed by URS to summarize all the previous dam removal concepts that have been considered as well as develop some new ideas based on discussions with the technical team.
Previous analyses covered many different approaches to dam removal, and have been described and analyzed in the following technical documents:
  1. Appraisal Report (USBR 2000)
  2. Feasibility Study (USACE 2004)
  3. Upstream Sediment Disposal Areas (USA; USACE 2010)
  4. Fine Sediment Study Group Final Report (FSSG 2011)
  5. Double Barrel Bypass (Stoecker 2011)

All of the previous concepts were combined along with several new concepts in a large table and then consolidated into a flowchart based on sediment management approach.  From these, several concepts (or groups of similar concepts) were carried forward into a potential initial options list.

Note that these are not the final options, as the Technical Advisory Committee had some input and suggestions during the afternoon meeting, and will be reviewing and commenting on these to further refine this list.  The options selected will be carried forward into the next level of analysis that will be directed toward determining the approximate cost and feasibility for a comparison of the concepts.

These graphics are excerpted from the presentations and technical memos available at

Previous history of the project may be found on this blog:


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Surfers Point - cobble berm monitoring

One of the innovative components of the Surfers Point Managed Shoreline Retreat Project is the application of a buried cobble berm to provide shoreline protection for the bike path and parking lot that were moved inland.  The berm is 8 feet thick and approximately 80 feet wide and is buried beneath constructed and revegetated sand dunes.

As a reminder of why this project was constructed, here is a photo of the bike path in 1994:

Historically, the area of greatest erosion is immediately downcoast of the Ventura River levee, which acts as a groin in blocking littoral (along shore) sand transport.  This area continues to see dramatic seasonal changes as the beach comes and goes with changing wave climate.  The typical summer beach looks like this:

 While currently the winter beach looks like this:

So depending on when you visit the site, the "toe" of the cobble berm may or may not be evident.

The following is a collection of photos taken from the Ventura River Levee at the west end of the project site looking back towards the beach restoration area.  This series of photos shows the excavation of the parking lot and the importation of cobble and sand to create the buried cobble berm.    It also illustrates the seasonal changes and the evolution of the cobble berm in response to the changing wave climate and sand supply.  Note that the spur groin in the right foreground can be almost buried with sand in the summer months.

We will continue to photo document this aspect of the project to demonstrate the effectiveness of the cobble berm to adapt to future changes.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Matilija Coalition Update February 2014

Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Campaign Update 2013-2014

Matilija Coalition:   One of the most common questions we are asked, whether at public events or just hanging out at the beach, is "when is that dam coming out?"   Although recent progress on actual dam removal has been painfully slow, there remains considerable interest and support within our community.

The Matilija Coalition continues to provide public outreach and education on Matilija Dam. We conducted 4 field tours in 2013, most notably the SERCAL conference (Society for Ecological Restoration California Chapter SERCAL conference 2013).   This month I was invited to give a short update to the Ojai Rotary Club.  We also work with classes from UCSB, Ojai Valley School, and Ventura College.  In 2014 we will also host a fieldtrip for Ventura High School AP science class and another AP Science group called "Get Inspired".

Dam Removal Update:
Unfortunately, little progress has been made since the 2004 federal feasibility plan was approved by Congress in 2007.  The original schedule had dam removal slated for 2012, but that date slipped by quickly with a lack of federal funding and fundamental problems with the plan.  As detailed design
progressed it was evident that actual costs for the $145M project were quickly surpassing $200M! We have been working with federal, state, and local agencies to resolve these issues since 2008.  Milestones in this effort are documented at 

In 2012, the Matilija Dam "Technical Advisory Committee (TAC)" completed a work plan for the next steps in resolving the issues with removing Matilija Dam.  The studies will include:

Task 1: Dam Removal Plans and Costs - to complete a screening and evaluation process of feasible dam removal and interim notch concepts, and ultimately to complete a conceptual design of up to two (2) preferred concepts that could move forward into permitting and implementation.

Task 2: Sediment Analysis of interim and dam removal schemes - evaluate the in-channel and reservoir-area responses to the proposed full dam removal initial options and concepts that will be screened and evaluated in Task 1, with a primary reliance on the simulation of sediment transport processes to evaluate downstream sedimentation and associated flooding risk, as well as (included in Task 1) geomorphologic changes, short- and long-term habitat impacts, and water quality.

Task 3: Robles Diversion Mitigation - develop methods to mitigate the impact to water supply through supplying water of acceptable quality during the period of turbidity impact. The work of Task 3 would be done in close collaboration with Tasks 1 and 2.

The completed TAC reports may be downloaded at

In 2013 a consultant team was selected to perform the additional studies recommended by the TAC.  A contract was recently approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, with the work to be sponsored by the California Coastal Conservancy.  Work should begin in March 2014.  A meeting will be scheduled around the May time frame with the project "Design Oversight Group" in order to consolidate information and brainstorm dam removal alternatives.  The studies are anticipated to take about 18 months, at which point we should have a short list of potential project alternatives which will require still more engineering for implementation.

The Matilija Coalition will continue to advocate for the most cost-effective plan possible.  Recognizing that we are in an era of greatly reduced federal funding necessitates simplifying the project in order to reduce costs significantly.  For an example of the negative impacts of federal spending cuts, visit the beaches of Port Hueneme. Read more here: beach-erosion-and-federal-funding

Upcoming Events:

Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF) Conference 2014
This year's conference returns to Santa Barbara, CA.   SRF promotes restoration, stewardship, and recovery of California native salmon, steelhead and trout populations through education, collaboration,
and advocacy. The annual conference provides a forum for restoration professionals to share progress and ideas from around the state.  We have regularly presented at this conference since 2004, and this year will host a field trip and present on Matilija Dam.

*  Ventura River Parkway Tour
    Thursday, March 20, 2014
* Dams: Learning to Live With and Without Them
   March 22 Saturday Morning Concurrent Sessions
   Matilija Dam: Taking Another Look - Paul Jenkin, Surfrider Foundation

See for the full agenda and to register for the conference.

DamNation - the film

The world premier of the new dam removal film will be at the South by Southwest Music and Film Festival, March 7 - 16, 2014 • Austin, TX.  We eagerly anticipate local screenings to reinvigorate the conversation on Matilija Dam.

"This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation’s majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature."

Watch the trailer here:

World Fish Migration Day, May 24th, 2014 -  World Fish Migration Day (WFMD) - we will be
working with NOAA and other partners to host an event to highlight the need for safe upstream and downstream passage for listed fish (i.e. steelhead).  Events will be taking place throughout the world, starting in New Zealand and working their way around the globe where they will finish here on the West Coast. More information can be found at:

The Surfrider Foundation is the lead organization and fiscal sponsor for the Matilija Coalition, formed in 2000 to consolidate the NGO efforts to remove Matilija Dam from the Ventura River.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Surfers Point Winter 2014

A boardwalk is the most recent addition to the Surfers' Point Managed Shoreline Retreat project.  Designed to provide access around the 'cobble garden,' the boardwalk is constructed with weatherproof plastic decking and adds a finished touch to the bike path.  We have received positive comments from the 'regulars' at the beach, and people seem to be enjoying the little detour off the paved path.

The project also appears to be functioning well during winter "king tides" and storm surf.  This aerial overview shows the wet sand from high tide early in the day as well as the exposed cobble berm on the west (left) side of the project.

 The managed retreat project was designed to mimic and enhance the natural function of the beach which changes throughout the year.  The erosion of the beach in winter months is expected with high tides and surf, and wave action naturally sorts the sand and cobble.

This cobble, which was buried beneath sand just a month ago, extends beneath the dunes all the way back to the bike path.  The 'cobble berm,' which is is up to eight feet thick, provides a significant mass of natural river rock to protect the bike path from extreme events and future sea level rise.

The aerial photos below were taken at extreme low (minus) tide, and clearly show the cobble in the intertidal zone - it is this cobble that provides the foundation for the marine delta that creates the "point" at the mouth of the Ventura River.

More about this project:


Friday, December 20, 2013

Beach erosion and federal funding

Our coastal neighbor, Port Hueneme, has been in the news a lot this year due to beach erosion which is threatening streets and infrastructure built along the shoreline.  Over the summer the city began reinforcing the seawall that protects the road, but didn't have money to complete the project.  The California Coastal Conservancy recently approved $2M for additional construction. The aerial photo below shows the extension of the rocks along the beach toward the pier.

The aerial photos below from show the loss of sand from 2010 to 2013:

This dramatic erosion is the direct result of federal budget cuts which eliminated funding for the required biannual harbor dredging.   Harbor jetties block the constant movement of sand down the coast, so  regular dredging is required to keep the harbor mouth open and bypass sand.  Hueneme beach is entirely dependent on sand that is dredged from Channel Islands harbor.

This aerial overview shows the sand that has collected in the trap created by the offshore breakwater at Channel Islands harbor. If this maintenance is not completed beaches "downstream" are starved of sand and rapidly disappear.

Ventura Harbor has been suffering the same problem.  This photo was taken while the dredge was operating in February 2013.

These photos show how much sand has built up in the Ventura Harbor sand trap.

aerial overview of Ventura Harbor shows sand buildup between north jetty and breakwater 

After nearly a year of meetings and conversations with the Army Corps of Engineers the Ventura Harbor received $2.5 million of the $5.9 million it needs to dredge. That money only paid for about 235,000 cubic yards in 2013, or less than half the 600,000 cubic yards sand required annually to keep sand moving down the coast.

The budget crisis prompted the Ventura Port District to consider an offer to sell sand to Broad Beach in Malibu, a beach that eroded in response to removal of natural sand dunes.  But BEACON director Brian Brennan said "The erosion agency isn’t about to just hand over the Ventura Harbor sand, because it is vital to protecting properties on coastlines in Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Those beaches need to be replenished with sand annually." (see Ventura Harbor's excess sand may be treasure for Malibu residents)

According to a recent Port Commission newsletter, Ventura Harbor anticipates about $3.7 million in federal funding, enough to dredge up to 400,000 cubic yards in February or March.  Because this is still partial funding it will result in accumulation of another 200,000 yards to the ongoing buildup in the sand trap and downcoast deficit.

This article in the VCStar sums it up:

The problem is Congress has not allocated enough money to replenish the badly eroded beach with more sand, something the U.S. government is obligated to do.
That obligation was made decades ago when the Port of Hueneme was built. The port project interrupted the normal flow of sand down the coast that had replenished not only Hueneme Beach but many other local beaches as sand washed away.
Hueneme Beach is supposed to be replenished with sand every two years through dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The sand is taken from a sand trap located at the mouth of Channel Islands Harbor.
In the most recent dredging, the corps was unable to pump the 2.5 million cubic yards of sand required by the beaches because of what federal officials called budget restraints.
Port Hueneme Mayor Ellis Green said...Port Hueneme’s lack of sand “is a man-made problem,” 
“The solution to this problem is simple,” he said. “The federal government needs to fulfill its obligation and pump the sand that is now in the sand trap to our beaches.”
More on this blog:

In the News:

Port Hueneme faces erosion threat from sand shortage
Sunday, February 3, 2013

Port Hueneme plans to lobby Congress for more sand

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | Updated Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ventura Harbor's excess sand may be treasure for Malibu residents

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Obama budget includes money for Ventura Harbor dredging

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 | Updated Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Port Hueneme officials seek help restoring beach

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Port Hueneme to take emergency measures to protect shoreline

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Port Hueneme beach erosion could cost city taxpayers millions of dollars

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Port Hueneme council moves forward on beach erosion effort

Tuesday, July 2, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Crew to put boulders at Hueneme Beach to ward off erosion

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Rep. Julia Brownley: Budget dysfunction washes beach out to sea

Saturday, July 20, 2013

John K. Flynn: County should take the lead in abating beach erosion

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Senate panel supports $2 million to fix Port Hueneme's 'dire' beach emergency

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Julia Brownley: In our time of need, a bipartisan call to action

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Port Hueneme Pier appears safe from erosion — for now

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brownley attaches amendments to water bill to help Port Hueneme

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Port Hueneme receives gift of sand from Swedish family
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

High tides during solar eclipse erode more sand in Port Hueneme

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Port Hueneme beach erosion slows

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, November 19, 2013

BMW signs multimillion-dollar deal with Port of Hueneme
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Port Hueneme waiting for $2 million to build sea wall to combat erosion

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 | Updated Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

backcountry hazard - ticks and lyme disease

Mountain biking Middle Lion Trail, Sespe Creek watershed
 - Mountain Bike Action Magazine Nov 2013

Our area has some amazing backcountry.  So when the surf is flat, there's still lots of things to do.  I have hiked and biked the local trails for decades, and generally spent a lot of time outdoors.  Apart from the usual cuts and bruises (and a mild concussion), I've always stayed fairly safe. No rattlesnake, scorpion, or shark bites.  But last April, a ride on the trail pictured above changed my life.

Hard to imagine something so tiny has the potential
 to wreak so much havoc
Over the years I must have been bitten by hundreds of ticks.  But this time I got a bad one.  I'd always heard of Lyme Disease, and was aware of the potential hazard from ticks.  If caught soon, ticks can be removed fairly easily.  But left on the body for too long, a tick will embed itself under the skin to feed on your blood.  Along with anticoagulants and anesthetics, it can inject a potentially life threatening bacteria into your body - a spiral-shaped bacteria (spirochete) called Borrelia burfgdorferi.

Common on the East Coast of the United States, Lyme Disease is becoming more prevalent in our area.       Some attribute this spread to our intrusion on natural processes and climate change.  It seems everyone I talk to knows someone affected by it.  Unfortunately mistreatment and misdiagnosis is the norm, which can lead to long term disability and even death.

I will be ok, but it will take many months to recover.  Although my initial diagnosis and treatment was inadequate, I am now under the care of  a LLMD (Lyme Literate MD.)   But this was only because I knew exactly what happened and received good referrals.  Those less fortunate endure years of misdiagnosis and an endless misery that I would wish on nobody.

According to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS):

  • Up to fifty percent of ticks in Lyme-endemic areas are infected with Lyme or other tick-borne diseases. With odds like that, if you have proof or a high suspicion that you've been bitten by a tick, taking a "wait and see" approach to deciding whether to treat the disease has risks. The onset of Lyme disease symptoms can be easily overlooked or mistaken for other illnesses. Once symptoms are more evident the disease may have already entered the central nervous system, and could be hard to cure. This is one case in which an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

I post this information so people will be aware that Lyme Disease is a serious problem in Southern California, and that although your general practitioner may not be 'lyme literate,' there are doctors who can help.


The film "Under Our Skin" exposes the horrors of Lyme and the controversy and conflicts surrounding the disease.  The full feature is here:

More info:

Tips to Avoid Lyme Disease:

Under Our Skin Movie:

TOUCHED BY LYME: Ski champ shares her “LymeLight” in new film - See more at:

The Rise of the Tick, OUTSIDE MAGAZINE, JUNE 2013