Monday, September 21, 2015

Matilija Dam - Studies and Next Steps

On September 17, 2015,  the Matilija Dam "Design Oversight Group" met to receive a presentation from the consultant team and discuss the next steps toward removing the obsolete dam from the Ventura River. The meeting was well attended by local, state, and federal agencies and interested locals.

Background:  In 2012, the California Coastal Conservancy agreed to sponsor an independent study to find a way to manage the fine sediment trapped behind the dam.  These studies are now complete, and are available at

The good news:  Three dam removal concepts have been developed that resolve the issues that stalled the project in 2008.  Each of these alternatives greatly reduce the cost of the project and enhance the long term benefits of dam removal.  These are described below.

What's Next for Matilija Dam?

Ventura County has solicited comments from the stakeholder organizations and government agencies that make up the Design Oversight Group.  The group will meet again before the end of the year - hopefully there will be agreement on a path forward so we can take the next steps necessary to remove the dam in a reasonable time frame.

Dam Removal Concepts:

The consultants underwent an exhaustive initial screening process to consider the whole spectrum of dam removal concepts.  The team ultimately agreed to carry three alternatives forward for more detailed analysis.  This work was presented last year at the Matilija Dam meetings May 28, 2014.

The three concepts are as follows:

Dam Removal Concept-1: Containment Berm with High Flow Bypass
The primary objective of this dam removal concept would be to use one high flow event, having a minimum average daily flow of approximately 1,700 cubic feet per second (cfs)4, to quickly erode and transport as much fine sediment and organic material as possible out of the reservoir and through the downstream reaches to the ocean.  The dam would be removed by diverting the river into North Fork Matilija Creek through a tunnel in the mountain to dewater the reservoir.  The next big flood to occur would then create a natural channel and flush the sediments downstream and out to the ocean.
Cost: $40.4 million

Dam Removal Concept – 2A: Uncontrolled Orifices/2B: Optional Gates
The objective of this dam removal concept (DRC-2A) would be to erode and transport as much fine sediment as possible from the reservoir, while minimizing costs and time associated with large bypass/containment structure construction and sediment removal. The fine sediment mobilization would be achieved by allowing flow through two uncontrolled orifices, whose opening would be coordinated to coincide with a sufficiently high flow event (as summarized for DRC-1). The orifices are sized to pass the minimum high flow event in an unpressurized condition and are located to maximize mobilization of the reservoir sub-area sediments from the upstream face of the dam.
Cost: $18.5 million (2A) or $20.4 million (2B)

Although it may seem like a bold proposal, this has been done before.  See Watching the Dams Come Down - Condit

Dam Removal Concept – 3: Temporary Upstream Storage of Fine Sediment
The objective of this dam removal concept is to provide a concept that optimizes the Federal project (EIS/R Alternative 4b) but reduces the volume of excavated sediment and eliminates the need for a dredge-and-slurry system. These objectives are achieved by handling and temporary stabilization of a portion of the accumulated sediment within the reservoir and allowing limited release of a portion of the accumulated sediment. The dam would be demolished and removed during the final season of channel excavation, with the goal of providing limited fish passage through the site immediately after dam removal.
Cost: $49.7 million

Evaluation of Dam Removal Concepts:

DRC-3 is effectively a refinement of the project developed during the Corps of Engineers Feasibility Study from 2000-2004.  (see Matilija Dam poster.)  The current studies were conducted because the cost of sediment management for the preferred Alternative 4b had escalated to approximately $113 million (in 2015 dollars.)  The DRC-3 concept presented here reduces sediment management to approximately $49.7 million by eliminating an expensive slurry pipeline and over 70 acres of permanent downstream disposal area.  

Dam removal concepts DRC-1 and DRC-2 are intended to minimize the duration and associated high turbidity impacts to downstream water diversions and ecology by concentrating the majority of fine sediment erosion and transport into a single storm event.  In other words, the majority of the fine sediment would be intentionally flushed out during a single flood.

These are essentially "Natural Transport" alternatives, intended to make use of the high energy that the Ventura River exhibits during large winter storms.  During the first high flow, Matilija Creek would cut though the sediment deposits upstream of the dam and create a channel similar to that which existed before the dam was constructed.  The creek would then be constrained by the high walls on either side and much of the sediment would remain in place for many decades into the future.

Erosion of sediments from behind the dam is now understood, from theory and practical experience, to occur in two phases as shown below:  

From an initial, unchanneled condition, “Phase I” erosion occurs as the river cuts a channel into the fine sediments in the Reservoir and Delta sub-areas.  “Phase II” erosion occurs once the creek erodes down to its historic channel and fine sediment is no longer being directly mobilized by the flow.

Under these dam removal scenarios, all the Phase I erosion would occur during the first flood.  The analysis concludes that this event would create extremely high sediment concentrations in the river downstream and all the way out to the ocean.  However, this condition would only last for about a day while the river is cutting down into the sediment.  Once this channel is established, all future floods would result in Phase II conditions, in which sediment concentrations are approximately the same order of magnitude as existing conditions for flooding in the Ventura River watershed.

How would this affect steelhead another aquatic life in the river?
The figure below indicates severe effects, perhaps 60-80% mortality for steelhead downstream. However, other dam removal projects on the west coast have shown that, in the real world, steelhead and salmon that have been blocked by dams for generations are able to hide out in clear flowing tributaries and then almost immediately find their way upstream, sometimes within days of such an event.  If you think about it, fires and floods historically created just such conditions in natural watersheds where native fish evolved.

How much will the complete Dam Removal project cost?
A preliminary "Range of Magnitude" cost comparison of the sediment management concepts are presented in the table below:

Note that these costs do not include the downstream mitigation components identified in the 2004 Feasibility Study including levees, bridges, and water supply infrastructure improvements. This could be an additional $50 million or more, making DRC-3 a $100 million project.  On the other hand, DRC-2 reduces sediment management to $18.5 million making it perhaps less than a $70 million project.  Note that all these alternatives will require additional engineering and environmental analysis.

How long will it take?
The key to the natural transport strategy in this drought-and-flood environment is to set up the project and “wait” for a high flow event.  Although the current drought seems like forever (4 years), historically we have experienced a median of two years between high flow events.
Each of the alternatives considered would achieve dam removal and a free-flowing river within 2-5 years, although DRC-1 may take up to 6 years due to the additional construction and risk.  (Note that this is the time AFTER additional engineering design and environmental analysis and permitting has been completed, which will be several years at best.)

Which alternative is best?
The three alternatives were ranked based on the cost, risk, and benefits and impacts to habitat and water supply.  Largely because of it's simplicity, the orifice concept comes out on top:


Download the reports:
Read more: - Matilija Dam

Surfrider Foundation Ventura County Chapter Meeting
When: October 6, 6pm
Where: Meeting room at the Social Tap Restaurant and Bar, 1105 S Seaward Ave, Ventura
Peter Sheydayi, Ventura County engineer in charge of Matilija Dam will discuss the project.

Friday, July 24, 2015

KCET - CA Coastal Trail

KCET, the nation's largest independent public television station, is producing a series on the California Coastal Trail.  Starting at the Mexican border this past winter, they are making their way north to highlight communities along the 1000 mile trail.

In this episode they visit Surfers Point in Ventura: 

Restoring Surfer's Point at Seaside Park:  "I think if you look back in history, we've made a lot of mistakes in how we've treated the California coast," explains Paul Jenkin, member of the Surfrider Foundation of Ventura County.

In other episodes, 

Ventura's mayor gives an overview of the city;
Ventura: Channel Island Views and Laid-Back Shores

and Surfrider's Chad Nelsen is featured in the episode on his hometown;
Laguna Beach: Where Art and Nature Thrive

Visit KCET for the entire series on the California Coastal Trail

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ventura demonstration water recycling plant

Ventura city officials raise a glass of recycled water
 at the press event for the "Pure demonstration facility" 

On July 16, 2015, Ventura Water unveiled the new "Pure demonstration facility." The plant is a pilot wastewater recycling plant that produces 20 gallons per minute of treated drinking water from the tertiary treated water that is currently discharged into the Santa Clara River estuary.  The plant is part of a statewide initiative to demonstrate the feasibility of direct potable reuse (DPR.)
The components of the facility are shown below.  Visit the city's sustainable water website for an interactive version of this graphic and more information.  Tours are being given every Saturday from 9 to 11 am for the general public. Tours are limited to 20 people. Please sign up for the public tours before noon on the Friday before the tour by emailing Gina Dorrington ( or calling (805) 677-4131. Private groups interested in week day tours can also be accommodated with advanced notice.

In the news:

South Coast Community Experimenting With System To Turn Wastewater Into Drinking Water, KCLU

Ventura unveils pilot program aimed at increasing recycled water supply, VC Star

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Local Heroes - Keeper of the Coast

Local Heroes honored in the July 2, 2015 issue of the Ventura County Reporter include Paul Jenkin, "Keeper of the Coast."  The article highlights Paul's work as the "environmental guy" with the Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation including Surfers' Point, Matilija Dam, and projects aimed at restoring the Ventura River watershed.

“As keepers of the coast, when you’re educated and aware of what’s going on,
 I think you have a duty to call attention to the issues that affect the coast"
"Think globally, act locally"
- Paul Jenkin

Read the full article here:

Paul Jenkin, the “environmental guy” in the Ventura County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, grew up traveling, a citizen of the world. He began surfing in Florida during college, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ocean engineering.

In 1989, Jenkin, who currently resides in Oak View, moved to Ventura County to work for a Navy contractor but his concern about the environment only intensified.

“Believe it or not, in the ’80s and ’90s I was really concerned about climate change; and seeing what was going on, I was driving myself crazy,” he stated.

His wife advised him to take action and he adopted what has now become his mantra: Think locally, act locally.

“You can’t solve the world’s problems, but locally you can effect some positive change and that’s what I set my mind to do.”

The Surfrider Foundation was founded in 1984, and its global chapters are dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of oceans, beaches and waves. All chapters are run by volunteers. At the Ventura County chapter, Jenkin is the Ventura campaign coordinator, aiding in the management of existing campaigns and monitoring current issues.

Most notably, the Ventura chapter was involved in the Surfers Point Managed Shoreline Retreat project, which tackled worsening coastal erosion and a crumbling bike path at Surfers Point.

According to Jenkin, one of Surfrider’s key functions is not only providing a voice for local activists who are concerned with coastal issues but also offering a way to create real change.

“As keepers of the coast, when you’re educated and aware of what’s going on, I think you have a duty to call attention to the issues that affect the coast,” he explained.

For example, the Matilija Coalition was founded in 2000 to enable collaboration between individuals and organizations regarding the removal of Ojai’s Matilija Dam. The structure promotes the erosion of beaches and decline of fish because it hinders flow of the Ventura River into the ocean. Matilija Dam is the biggest dam at over 200 feet to be considered for removal in the country.

Today, the dam still stands but Jenkin hopes removal will happen within the next decade. He’d also like to see more people become increasingly informed, stating that education programs intended to enhance public awareness on issues facing the coast are also a priority for Surfrider.

Consequently, he produced the film Watershed Revolution with National Geographic photographer Rich Reid. It aired nationally on PBS, on local cable and was not only screened locally but in several film festivals.

“We wanted to build awareness that our local watershed sustains us and there are many people in the community committed to protecting and restoring the Ventura River. We hoped to inspire people to get involved.”

Besides remarking that better water management is crucial. especially during a drought, he advises choosing a relatable cause, then moving forward and slowly making a difference.

“We are all environmentally conscious; it just depends whether we act on it or not,” Jenkin said.

At present, as a member of Friends of the Ventura River Coalition, he looks forward to further progress on the work focused on the Ventura River Parkway.

For more information, go to

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Surfrider letter re: Ventura 2015 Comprehensive Water Resources

May 18, 2015

Ventura City Council
501 Poli St
Ventura CA 93001
Sent via e-mail


Dear Ventura City Council;

The Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has been engaged in local water issues for almost two decades.  We recognize that waste equals pollution, which directly affects the health of our coast and those of us who enjoy ocean recreation.  We believe that a truly integrated water management plan is desperately needed so that the City of Ventura can become sustainable within the limits of our local water supply.

The current drought has exposed the vulnerability of the City of Ventura to uncontrolled variations in water supply.  Ventura has reached what some call “Peak Water.”  Water supply is the most critical issue our community faces, and future generations depend on today’s decisions.

Unfortunately, our review of the 2015 COMPREHENSIVE WATER RESOURCES REPORT reveals some glaring errors and omissions that not only represent undisclosed limits to our water supply, but also missed opportunities in attaining sustainable water management.

We recommend that City Council:
Reject the 2015 COMPREHENSIVE WATER RESOURCES REPORT until these errors are resolved, and
Impose a building moratorium during the current severe drought.

The following are some of our concerns with the 2015 COMPREHENSIVE WATER RESOURCES REPORT:

1. Casitas Municipal Water District (Casitas)

The report does not mention transfers outside the CMWD district boundary to the east side of Ventura.  Under current drought conditions this transfer will likely have to be eliminated. Also, the report assumes a drought reduction of the City’s supply from Casitas of 20%, while CMWD is mandated to reduce overall demand by 32%

2. Ventura River Surface Water Intake and Upper Ventura River Groundwater Basin/Subsurface Intake and Wells (Foster Park)

Currently flows have dropped to a historic low at Foster Park.  The report notes that the City’s ability to draw water from the Ventura River has been significantly impacted by the current drought. However, the long-term estimates for increased yield from 4200 to 6700 acre feet per year yield from Foster Park are not realistic due to physical and legal constraints.
1. Future water supply estimates from Foster Park are based on the wettest years, which in reality only occur once every 7 to 10 years.  Therefore, the expectation for increased yield from Foster Park do not account for the physical limitations of a variable climate – many years there simply will not be that much water to extract.
2. In the future, extractions at Foster Park are likely to be legally constrained.  Reduction and elimination of surface flows in the “Live Reach” of the Ventura River threaten the endangered steelhead as well as recreation and water quality.  Ongoing litigation by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper questions Ventura’s water right with regard to instream flows and the public trust.

3. East side groundwater supply:

Aquifers on the east side are impacted by overdraft and subject to long-term salt-water intrusion.  Poor water quality necessitates blending to achieve potable water standards.  The City of Ventura is just one of many users of these aquifers.  Depending on future drought and urban and agricultural uses these sources may also become more limited.

4. Recycled Water:

The report only anticipates a small increase of 700 AFY in reclaimed water for the 2025 water budget.  Reclaimed water is the city’s best opportunity to enhance water supply reliability.

Ventura Water Reclamation Facility  (VWRF)

The city is bound under under the Wishtoyo/HTB legal settlement to increase reuse of VRWF effluent to at least 50% by 2025.  This could yield a significant increase in water supply while at the same time reducing the impact to the estuary and McGrath State Beach, which has been closed due to flooding.

Ojai Valley Sanitary District (OVSD)

In contrast, reclamation of  OVSD effluent will greatly reduce flows in the lower Ventura River.  Currently, in dry years, nearly 100% of the flow in the lower Ventura River is OVSD effluent.  Removing this effluent from the river will further compound the impacts from over-extraction at Foster Park and result in a dry river.  Therefore we do not anticipate that this is a viable future source of water for Ventura.

5. What population may be supported by the current and future supply?

This is the most important question facing the city today. It appears that Ventura is overestimating the current and future water supply in order to justify continued urban growth.  This places an undue burden on current and future residents.  We recommend that a building moratorium be enacted until this question is answered and a clear plan for future water management is developed.

6. How can Ventura better plan for the future?

Why did Ventura miss out on Prop 40 IRWMP funding?
The County-run Watersheds Coalition of Ventura County (WCVC) program has successfully secured millions of dollars in state funding for local projects.  Despite investing thousands of hours of staff time as well as fiscal sponsorship for WCVC, the City of Ventura did not submit any proposals for IRWMP grant funding.

Surfrider has consistently advocated that Integrated Water Management is the key to attracting grant funding to achieve optimum use of available water supplies.   This is best achieved on multiple scales using a watershed planning approach.  Coordination with other local agencies, and capturing and using resources near their source are essential to provide resiliency to future changes.

An Ocean Friendly Garden is a small-scale example of this strategy.  Water that runs off roofs and driveways is captured in the landscape providing an adequate supply of water for native plants as well as reducing flooding and water quality problems downstream.  Greywater may be used on-site to support fruit trees.  By capturing and using water onsite, wasteful irrigation is eliminated and water that used to run off the landscape is captured so as to contribute to the local aquifer. Many small Ocean Friendly Gardens add up to neighborhood-scale benefits.

On a larger scale, water that is currently channeled off the landscape by the storm drain system should also be captured and utilized.  Such improvements to the urban landscape provide an even greater opportunity to capture and infiltrate stormwater and eliminate the liability from polluted runoff.  This could be highly beneficial in stressed aquifers such as those in East Ventura.

Similarly, wastewater may be captured in locations with reuse opportunities through small local “scalping plants.”  Such plants should be planned for East Ventura where groundwater recharge or direct reuse can help maintain depleted aquifers.

We join with other members of our community and encourage you to make the right decisions to ensure Ventura’s prosperous and sustainable future.


Dan Glaser
Chair - Surfrider Foundation Ventura County Chapter

click here to download the letter

 click here to download 2015 COMPREHENSIVE WATER RESOURCES REPORT  pdf 

click here to download the City's response

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

ChannelKeeper sues to save a drying river

"The city of Ventura for decades has overpumped and diverted Ventura River water, threatening wildlife and water quality, and the agency responsible for protecting it is doing nothing, says a lawsuit filed September 22, 2014 against the State Water Resources Control Board."
                -   VCStar: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper sues for study of Ventura River water use

Ventura River at Foster Park - July 2013

According to ChannelKeeper;

“For 16 years, the State Water Board has recognized the Ventura River as impaired by pumping and diversion of water, yet has never conducted a Reasonable Use Analysis of the City’s pumping,” said Ben Pitterle, Channelkeeper’s Watershed and Marine Program Director. “The recent drought has brought water supply concerns to the forefront, but this unreasonable use has been occurring for decades. We feel the river can't wait any longer."

Some stretches of the river that once flowed year-round now frequently go dry for months at a time, and surface flows in other stretches have been reduced to the point that water quality is severely degraded. Where flow is insufficient, water temperatures rise, algae proliferate and suck oxygen out of the river, and fish and other aquatic species that depend on a clean, flowing river suffer. At the same time, those who pump water from the river, particularly the City of Ventura, continue to do so at an unreasonable and unsustainable rate. This situation is heading toward a crisis, especially as the City discusses plans for significant growth, which would exacerbate the problem.

“This is an issue that really needs to be resolved by the City developing a truly integrated water management system to ensure that our limited resources are not wasted and to ensure the future sustainability of the community,” said Paul Jenkin, Environmental Director with Surfrider Foundation, Ventura chapter, and longtime river advocate.

Critical Victory in Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s Lawsuit to Restore Flows in the Ventura River

At a hearing in California Superior Court in San Francisco on Thursday April 23, 2015, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper won a critical victory in its lawsuit to restore flows in the Ventura River.  The Court affirmed that the SWRCB does indeed have a mandatory duty to prevent unreasonable use of California’s water and that Channelkeeper can seek to compel them to analyze the City of Ventura’s use of the Ventura River. The SWRCB is required to respond to Channelkeeper’s lawsuit within 21 days.

On May 14, the City of Ventura filed a cross complaint against the other water districts in the watershed (Casita Municipal, Meiners Oaks, Ventura River, Rio Manor Mutual, Senior Canyon, as well as Wood-Claeyssens Foundation (Taylor Ranch) alleging whereas the City's water use IS reasonable and beneficial, the other water districts are not.  Within this cross complaint the "City seeks a physical solution among City and all Cross-Defendants regarding their respective uses of surface and/or subsurface water and groundwater affecting the Ventura River."  In legal terms, "physical solution" refers to an a SWRCB adjudication or court proceeding which typically result in an enforceable order allocating the water (and the water rights) in the adjudicated stream system, groundwater basin or combined water source. According to Sawyers (see below), "Adjudications typically take years (or even decades) to complete because of the often complex legal and factual issues involved." 


 ChannelKeeper's writ complaint: SBCK2014.09.19.Writ_Complaint.pdf

 City of Ventura cross complaint:  2015 05 14 SBCK Writ_SBV Xcomplaint v. Casitas et al.pdf

More information on the complexities of California water law pertaining to this  legal situation may be found in A PRIMER ON CALIFORNIA WATER RIGHTSPrepared by Gary W. Sawyers, Esq. 
The following are excerpts from this paper:

Beneficial Use and the Public Trust Doctrine
Regardless of the nature of the water right in question, two very important principles will always apply. First, under the California Constitution, water must be put to reasonable and beneficial use. No water right grants any party the right to waste or make unreasonable use of water, a nd any water right can be curtailed or revoked if it is determined that the holder of that right has engaged in a wasteful or unreasonable use of water.
Second, no water user in the State "owns" any water. Instead, a water right grants the hol der thereof only the right to use water (called a "usufructuary right"). The owner of "legal title" to all water is the State in its capacity as a trustee for the benefit of the public. The so-called "public trust doctrine" requires the State, as a trustee, to manage its public trust resources (including water) so as to derive the maximum benefit for its citizenry. The benefits to be considered and balanced include economic, recreational, aesthetic and environmental; if at any time the trustee determines that a use of water other than the then current use would better serve the public trust, the State has the power and the obligation to reallocate that water in accordance with the public's interest. Even if the water at issue has been put to beneficial use (and relied upon) for decades, it can be taken from one user in favor of another need or use. The public trust doctrine therefore means that no water rights in California are truly "vested" in the traditional sense of property rights.

Adjudicated Water Rights
Many "water rights" in California are not quantified, but are simply claimed and/or exercised without objection by other parties. However, when competing demands for a common water supply--whether surface water, groundwater or both--become too great, formal adjudications are sometimes commenced by one or more of the competing claimants. Both the SWRCB and the courts can conduct adjudications under appropriate circumstances, which typically result in an enforceable order allocating the water (and the water rights) in the adjudicated stream system, groundwater basin or combined water source. Adjudications typically take years (or even decades) to complete because of the often complex legal and factual issues involved.
Frequently, the result of an adjudication is an equitable apportionment of water that does not "track" with a technical application of water law principles. For example, in a recently completed adjudication in the Mojave Basin, the court noted that strict adherence to priority of rights a nd correlative rights among water users of equal status created uncertainty and potential economic consequences. Therefore, the court applied a "physical solution" requiring all users of the common water source to share equitably both in the water and in the reduction in use necessary to reduce extractions to safe yield. As is commonly the case in judicial adjudications, the court also retained continuing jurisdiction over the implementation of the adjudication order, making the court an ongoing "player" in the administration of the basin.
Such physical solutions may produce the most appropriate allocation of the water resource, but they also create a number of issues. The adjudication order effectively supersedes water rights law, and any interested party must become familiar with the order's impacts on existing and future involvement with impacted water users. Depending on the adjudication order, a watermaster may be in place with jurisdiction over the affected water, and special procedures may be imposed on parties dealing with the water and water rights involved. Even more vexing is the relatively common situation in which the adjudication order effectively severs the water rights from the land, making them freely transferable separate from the land on which those rights originally arose. Adjudicated water rights therefore can fall into a category distinct from more traditional water rights. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Watershed Management Plan released

The Ventura River Watershed Management Plan – watershed’s first comprehensive management plan – was approved by the Watershed Council on March 5, 2015.

The plan contains four parts and an executive summary, which can be downloaded as a complete document (800+ pages/149 mb), or as individual plan sections at  Questions about the plan can be directed to Lorraine Walter, watershed coordinator, at or 805/649-6852 x4.