Thursday, August 9, 2018

Mandalay Power Plant and Channel Islands Harbor

After a long series of studies and meetings, the Mandalay power plant is being removed from the Ventura County coast.   After more than 50 years of operation,  State policy now requires elimination of the plant's outdated "once though cooling" system to prevent impacts to marine life.  Energy company NRG sought to build a new plant in it's place.  The City of Oxnard and local stakeholders strongly opposed reconstruction of a new gas fired power plant, citing the impacts of air pollution on  downwind disadvantaged communities.  As the California Public Utilities Commission reviewed the application, the LA Times reported that the State was grappling with an excess of renewable solar energy. Other studies illuminated the vulnerability of the coastal site to future flooding. 

So when it seemed that the California Public Utilities Commission was not going to approve the new facility, and SCE did not renew a contract to buy the energy, the current company NRG and its subsidiary GenOn said the three facilities at the Mandalay Generating Station will cease operations by Dec. 31, 2017.

For decades the power plant pumped water from the "Edison Canal" and Channel Islands Harbor, discharging onto the beach.  Although cessation of this pumping will greatly benefit ocean waters, one potentially unintended consequence will be reduced circulation in the backwaters of the harbor.

During the heatwave in July, harbor residents noticed degraded water quality, and sounded the alarm. Meetings were held, and the City of Oxnard began testing the water and installing aeration systems to combat low dissolved oxygen.

Although cessation of the pumps may have played a role in this, water quality has been a long-standing problem in this and other harbors along the California coast.   Kiddie Beach remains impaired, and past studies concluded that lack of circulation in the harbor, harbor boating practices, and sewage contamination contribute to unhealthful bacteria levels near the mouth of the harbor.  

Mandalay Power Plant and Channel Islands Harbor
 Power plant pumps ceased in March, 2018
Poor circulation exacerbates this problem in the back channels of the harbor.   It is not surprising that recent testing identified problems in the Westport, Harbor Island, and SeaBridge areas.  In fact, Surfrider filed comments on the the SeaBridge development project when the City of Oxnard circulated an environmental document on harbor expansion.  At the time it was clear that this would create the backwater condition that has finally come to light.    

It should be noted that this is not a unique problem, and harbors throughout California frequently experience fish kills due to lowered dissolved oxygen levels.  This is usually the result of algae blooms fueled by high nutrient input combined with warm water and poor circulation.  Recent examples include Marina Del Rey (2014) and Ventura Harbor (2011).

In August 2018, Surfrider wrote a letter to the neighborhood council, and filed comments with the Regional Water Quality Control Board supporting cancellation of the Mandalay NPDES discharge permit. 

Sources of pollutants entering the harbor should be monitored and solutions developed to curtail or eliminate them.  Current water quality rules encourage improved water management practices, but until a community demands it, enforcement alone cannot force the necessary changes.  

In the meantime, the aeration systems installed by the City of Oxnard have demonstrated viability as a means to mitigate for lowered dissolved oxygen levels.  Similar to the sand-moving efforts at Oxnard Shores, this will not solve the root cause of the problem but merely help reduce the impacts of water pollution.

Surfrider commends the Channel Islands Community for uniting on this issue.  For years the poor water quality associated with the harbor has gone largely unnoticed.  The cessation of the power plant pumps may have temporarily exacerbated the problem, but the situation is not new.

We encourage the harbor residents to direct their efforts toward source control and mitigation.   Residents and boat owners can and should play a role in this process; indeed, success depends on it.

In the news:

Jun 22, 2018 Why is the water brown at Channel Islands Harbor? 

Aug 2, 2018 Oxnard harbor water clears up as aerators debut

NRG plans to shut down Oxnard power plant earlier than expected

California invested heavily in solar power. Now there's so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it

Unseasonal heat may have triggered Marina fish kill

Thousands of dead fish scooped from Ventura Harbor


Surfrider letter to LARWCB

City of Oxnard Updates

City of Oxnard Water Testing results - arcGIS map

Channel Islands Neighborhood Council

Wishtoyo - Kiddie Beach

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Coastal Studies for Dam Removal

The Ventura County Watershed Protection District (WPD) is finalizing a contract with a consulting team to conduct studies to assess the benefits and impacts of the removal of Matilija Dam to the Ventura River estuary and the coastline.  This study will take results from sediment transport modeling to be conducted for the dam removal project to model how this may change the estuary and coast.  Previous efforts estimated a 30% increase in coastal sediment delivery over the 50 years following dam removal.  This study will take a more detailed look at where this sediment will go and how it will affect the coastal ecosystem.

The consultant team was chosen through a selection committee convened by the Watershed Protection District to review proposals and conduct interviews.  This work is funded through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is anticipated to be conducted from October 2018 through September 2019.

Conceptual model of estuarine and coastal processes, Ventura, CA (Integral Consulting Inc.)

The study area includes the Ventura River starting at the West Main Street Bridge in the City of San Buenaventura and extending south to the mouth of the river at the Pacific Ocean, thence to the nearshore coastal areas from the Emma Wood State Beach extending east to the Ventura Harbor.

Project Abstract
The modeling of sediments delivered to the Ventura River Estuary and nearshore waters is an integral component of the larger Matilija Dam removal project, which is intended to restore riverine processes to create and sustain a variety of instream, riparian, estuarine, and coastal habitats along 16 miles of the Ventura River, including the estuary and immediate nearshore waters, as well as migratory access to upstream habitats for the federally listed endangered southern California steelhead trout. A restored sediment regime will enhance habitats for a wide variety of other native species such as the federal endangered tidewater goby and federal threatened red-legged frog, as well as other state and federal endangered riparian species such as the least Bell’s vireo and southwestern willow flycatcher. Sediment delivered to the immediate nearshore inter-tidal and sub-tidal marine environment is also an important component in these coastal habitats supporting spiny lobster, brant, western snowy plover, California least tern, and legless lizard as well as a larger number of marine invertebrates (e.g., clams, mussels, anemones) and plants (surf grass, marine algae).

Key aspects of the proposed modeling approach include:
• A lagoon model with upstream river discharge and episodic seasonal coastal exchanges through the barrier;
• An inlet model that couples the coastal model to the estuarine model and determines the conditions under which there is connectivity between the lagoon and the littoral zone;
• A coastal sediment transport model that captures littoral sediment transport processes over event timescales; and
• A shoreline model to evaluate long-term sediment transport patterns.

The coupled model will provide predictions of temporally and spatially resolved sediment transport and sedimentation within the Lagoon as well as short- and long-term predictions of shoreline change. These model outputs will then be used to assess the impacts on Lagoon and coastal habitat. 


National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

County Approves Matilija Dam Contract

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Matilija Dam Studies Begin

This week contractors began field work in the reservoir upsteam of Matilija Dam. A barge-mounted drilling rig is being used to sample the sediments trapped by the dam to update the work that was completed as part of the Corps of Engineers Feasibility Study.  Additional core samples will be collected from the dam itself, in order to assess the current state of the concrete and provide data for the structural analysis of the dam removal project.  These field studies are the first tasks in the Matilija Dam Removal 65% Planning Design Project funded by the $3.3M California Department of Fish and Wildlife Proposition 1 Grant received in May 2017.

excerpts from the contracted scope of work:

Subtask 1.1 - Geotechnical Field Investigations to Characterize Fine Sediment and Organics
...obtain and log sediment samples at six locations to an estimated depth of 60-90 feet, and perform
laboratory testing. Sampling and testing shall be performed to screen for the presence of contaminants such as heavy metals and pesticides, and the results shall be compared to earlier test findings by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Previous investigations by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) identified that the characteristics of the organic materials in the fine sediment upstream of the dam could affect water quality during and following dam removal. Several borings were abandoned after methane gas was detected and as a result, the full depth of the sediment was not penetrated at those locations. The six borings included in the this scope of work, as indicted above, will be used to characterize the limits of the organic materials as well as collect other geotechnical information (SPT blowcount, grain size distribution and relative quantities, plasticity, shear strength, etc.) related to the sediment to confirm the transport of fine sediment from the reservoir during initial and subsequent flushing events.

Subtask 1.2 - Field Investigations to Characterize Dam Concrete
...perform concrete coring and testing to determine the appropriate material properties for use in the structural analyses
...obtain concrete cores from the downstream dam face near the two proposed orifice locations and at 4 to 6 other locations along the upstream face of the dam. The downstream cores shall be obtained from a barge platform in the plunge pool or other means of access. The upstream cores shall be obtained from the same barge platform used for the geotechnical investigations under Task 1.1.
Selected samples shall be tested for bulk specific gravity, unconfined compressive strength, splitting tensile strength, and elastic modulus properties. Petrographic analysis and gel fluorescence testing shall also be conducted to assess the presence of Alkali Silica Reaction (ASR) in the concrete.

More info:

County Approves Matilija Dam Contract

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Grant approved for Surfers' Point

Ocean Protection Council Meeting, July 25, 2017
On July 25, 2018, the Ocean Protection Council approved a $335,000 grant for final design and engineering of Phase 2 of the Surfers’ Point Managed Shoreline Retreat project.  BEACON, the regional beach erosion agency, applied for the grant on behalf of the City of Ventura and Surfers Point Working Group.  The funding will provide for the city's consultant team to work with the Ventura County Fairgrounds and Working Group to resolve existing issues with Phase 1 of the project as well as complete planning for protection of the remaining bike path and parking lot.  

In the meantime, the City of Ventura is working to prepare a site plan in preparation for this future work.  On June 18, 2018, City Council voted unanimously to:

  • Authorize the City Manager to execute a Professional Services Agreement with RRM Design Group to provide a conceptual site plan for Surfers Point Managed Retreat, Phase 2, in the amount not-to-exceed $61,640, and authorize the encumbrance of contingency funds in the amount of $6,100 for a total encumbrance of $67,740; term of agreement: June 4, 2018 - June 4, 2019.

This  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.


Ocean Protection Council Meeting, July 25, 2017

Ventura City Council, Agenda and minutes, June 18, 2018

Ventura County Fairgrounds 

More on this blog:  Surfers' Point

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."