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


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Matilija Dam - water quality

Matilija Dam,  decaying debris, Jan 26, 2018 

Ventura River preserve, Jan 30, 2018
Two weeks after the flood, floating debris remains trapped near the dam.  There was a significant input of organic matter that has stagnated in the reservoir, as evidenced by the smell.  Flows entering the reservoir from upstream in Matilija creek as well as in the North Fork Matilija Creek are much cleaner.   This is having a tremendous impact on downstream water quality all the way to the ocean.

This is consistent with known reservoir impacts in general, and our experience monitoring Matilija Dam over the years.  Under normal circumstances Matilija reservoir often retains suspended particles for weeks following a storm, greatly extending the negative effects of turbidity downstream.  In the current situation, whatever has accumulated behind the dam has magnified this problem.

Matilija dam and reservoir, Google satellite image, after fire and flood, Jan 13, 2018

Rodents seemed most susceptible to wildfire
It is likely that any wildlife killed by the fire along with materials from destroyed residences has washed into the reservoir along with the vegetation that was stripped from the floodplain.  Extremely high turbidity killed fish in the reservoir.  The recent warm weather and stagnant water has created a toxic brew, which is slowly being released downstream.

Although there have been concerns raised over the years regarding the negative effects of releasing reservoir sediment, this illustrates how removal of the dam will in fact enhance water quality once the initial flush is complete.

Deer carcass, found elsewhere in the
watershed following Thomas Fire

Dead bass, found downstream in the Ventura River Preserve

Upstream of dam, Jan 26, 2018
Downstream of the dam, gauging station, Jan 26, 2018

Ventura River Preserve  Feb 12, 2018

On February 3, 2018, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper's Stream Team volunteers collected water samples throughout the watershed.  In particular, the results demonstrated a significant impact from the dam, with bacteria and nutrient levels spiking below the dam and slowly decreasing downstream. Note that these levels were orders of magnitude above those that have been recorded since 2001!

In the news:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Matilija Canyon, before and after the flood

This photo set illustrates the change in the Matilija Canyon floodplain from fire and flood,  following the Thomas Fire.

Matilija Canyon, looking upstream near Ecotopia, Dec 26, 2017

Matilija Canyon, looking upstream near Ecotopia, Jan 26, 2018

Matilija Canyon, looking downstream near Ecotopia, Dec 26, 2017

Matilija Canyon, looking downstream near Ecotopia, Jan 26, 2018

Google aerial - before

Google aerial - Jan 13, 2018
Aerial overviews from Google Earth Crisis map

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Letter: Santa Clara River Estuary

January 16, 2018

Gina Dorrington
Ventura Water
501 Poli Street, Room 120 Ventura, CA 93002

via email:

RE: SCRE Special Studies – Water Recycling Opportunity

Dear Ms. Dorrington:

The Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has voiced concerns with water quality at the mouth of the Santa Clara River since our Blue Water Task Force identified high bacteria levels at this popular surfing location in the early 1990’s. Recognizing the benefits of integrated water management, the Surfrider Foundation has been a longtime proponent of recycled wastewater to enhance our coastal ecosystems. Wastewater discharges have historically impaired coastal water quality, and even with advances in technology, increased nutrient levels impact receiving waters.

We would like to re-state our support for 100% recycling of the city’s wastewater to eliminate the discharge into the Santa Clara River Estuary.

We do not concur with the analysis presented at the November stakeholder meeting that oversimplify the ecosystem associated with the Santa Clara River Estuary (SCRE.) Indeed, as other commenters have noted, this system is in fact much more representative of a coastal lagoon, since it does not maintain a perennial opening to the ocean. Indeed, it is this fact that creates the problems with the wastewater discharge. Without a regular exchange between the lagoon and the ocean, nutrient rich wastewater accumulates in an unnatural manner behind the beach berm. Only during large winter storm events or human intervention does this lagoon breach. This results in unnaturally high water levels and poor water quality.

Finding of Enhancement is Flawed:

Any conclusion that determines that the lagoon is enhanced by the wastewater discharge are flawed. Although the resource agencies rightly are concerned for the endangered and special status species that rely on habitat at the mouth of the Santa Clara River, current conditions limit, rather than support those species. The unnaturally high water levels resulting from the discharge create a simplified pond habitat that is subject to episodic draining. Sea water exchange, a necessary part of this ecosystem, is also precluded with the flooded lagoon. The elimination of habitat complexity and poor water quality has created an ideal habitat for non-native species, most prominently carp. From our experience on the Ventura River, carp are the predominant fresh water species below the Ojai Sanitary District discharge on the lower Ventura River, relegating this reach to migratory status for the endangered Southern Steelhead. Steelhead may survive in such an environment, but they certainly wouldn’t choose it.

An Opportunity for Ecosystem Benefits:

A more complete ecosystem view of the situation has not been conducted as part of the SCRE analysis. By focusing exhaustively and exclusively on the Santa Clara River Estuary, the potential benefits of eliminating the wastewater discharge have not been fully considered. Consider this fact:

50% or more of the discharge originates from the Ventura River

The City of Ventura relies on a wellfield at Foster Park and surface storage from Lake Casitas for more than half the water supply. Both of these sources are currently stressed from over allocation during the prolonged drought.

How could a point source discharge directly into the Santa Clara River Estuary be considered to mimic “natural” processes and enhance the habitat, when much of the water originates from the adjacent watershed?

Most significantly, studies have documented the high quality spawning, rearing, and refugia habitat in the Ventura River upstream of the Foster Park wellfield. However, flows in this reach have become seriously impaired by over-extraction of groundwater, to the point that in recent years this refugia habitat has dried up for extended periods during the critical summer and fall months. It should be noted that this reach of the Ventura River was historically known as the “live reach,” for the rising groundwater in the vicinity of Casitas Springs, which was also named for this phenomenon. These are precisely the conditions that favor native species such as the southern steelhead. Indeed, recent population surveys have documented the presence of native trout in this reach.

Water Budget Perspective:

Consider the potential benefits from developing a “new” supply from recycled water. These slightly outdated supply and demand numbers are taken from the City's 2013 Final Comprehensive Water Resources Report. It is evident from this graph that if 'new' sources of water are not found the city will outgrow its water supply in the near future.

The red arrow shows that the potential for recycled water in Ventura is close to 50% of demand. (Of course the actual volume would be less than this depending on treatment and reuse options, but this demonstrates the overall magnitude.) Therefore water recycling would provide an opportunity to eliminate the flooding problem at McGrath as well as offset municipal water demand (i.e. an 'integrated solution'.) This demand offset could provide an opportunity to reduce pumping at the Foster Park wellfield during dry months of the year to sustain the critical habitat within the “live reach” of the Ventura River.


We encourage the City of Ventura and the stakeholder resource agencies to carefully reconsider the potential benefit from maximizing the recycled water potential. Rather than choosing to maintain an artificial pool at the Santa Clara River Estuary, which has very limited habitat benefits, demand offsets gained through recycling 100% of the wastewater effluent may be applied to the enhancement of the comparatively high quality habitat in the Ventura River. In turn, the coastal lagoon will return to a more natural hydrology with improved water quality and habitat, while also eliminating the non-native habitat conditions that are currently degrading the SCRE ecosystem.


A. Paul Jenkin, M.S.
Ventura Campaign Coordinator, Surfrider Foundation (805) 205-4953

cc: SCRE Stakeholder e-mail list 

Steelhead Population and Habitat Assessment in the Ventura River / Matilija Creek Basin 2006-2012 FINAL REPORT

Ventura River Ecosystem - wastewater,