Sunday, January 31, 2010

San Clemente Dam moves forward

Recent news on San Clemente Dam:

The headline reads: Deal struck to tear down 106-foot dam; would be largest dam removal in California.

"A $150 million project to tear down the 165-foot Matilija Dam in Ventura County, which is also silted up, was approved in 2004 by county officials, but has not been implemented yet because of funding shortfalls.

The question is which one will get the permits and the funding to go first."

SA Creek Bike Path

This season's rains raised river flows enough to damage the Ojai bike path where it crosses San Antonio Creek.

Although there are plans to construct a bridge to solve the problem and alleviate the ongoing impacts, County workers were out this week adding new riprap to the streambank and replacing the damaged asphalt path with new concrete.

This illustrates the 'chain reaction' effect of hardening a streambank. 'End effect' increases downstream erosion, necessitating ever more rock and concrete. Streambank hardening also results in loss of trees and shrubs which provide habitat and cooling shade important for our native species.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Manure Movers

Here's another pollution solution for the manure problem...

At the Green Schools Conference in Ojai last weekend, I listened as a farmer described his problem of lack of nitrogen in the soil.

I brought up the irony that while he can't get enough fertilizer, the river is suffering from excess nitrogen. This nutrient problem is partially due to all the horse manure in the valley.

Turns out there is already at least one small operation serving Ojai Valley School and another horse facility.

This seems like a great 'green business' opportunity for someone who is able to match the supply with the demand...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ocean Friendly Gardens at Green Building Council

USGBC California Central Coast Chapter Meeting
Monday January 25th 2010, 5:30 – 7:30pm
Patagonia Firehouse Building

Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) Director, Paul Herzog and Landscape Architect Pamela Berstler from the Green Gardens Group (G3) gave a great presentation tonight. They described the OFG program promoting beautiful, water-conserving gardens that reduce polluted runoff and restore urban wildlife habitat. Opportunities exist for homeowners, landscape professionals, and urban planners to all get involved in solving our urban runoff problem.

Look for more workshops and hands-on work days in 2010!

For more information contact Cynthia Hartley, Ventura OFG Coordinator, at

For more on 'why:'

In the news:

Green Schools Conference

Saturday January 23, 2009

Besant Hills School hosted this conference for schools in the region going 'Green.' It was a beautiful day in the upper Ojai Valley.

I was invited to show Watershed Revolution and talk about the importance of water education to over 100 teachers and students.

The Keynote Presentation was 'Smart by Nature, Educating for Sustainability,' presented by Karen Brown from the Center for Ecoliteracy. She concluded her talk with a photo of the first lady breaking ground on the new organic garden on the Whitehouse lawn. She attributed this historical moment to the teachers and students around the country who are making sustainability a priority.

We had the opportunity to learn about programs at Besant Hills and other schools in the region. Here we were shown the organic farm which helps provide food for the school. Besant Hills School uses simple cues, such as trash receptacles and compost, to remind students of resource cycles.

An inspiring presentation about Midland School, in the Santa Ynez Valley, showed how they engrain a sense of responsibility in their students. Aside from growing thier own food and caring for the land, the school is notorious for their 'shower fires.' Each day one student is reponsible for chooping wood to heat the water for his or her classes showers - the feedback is immediate if the job is not done!

It is inspiring to see educators working to shift the next generation into a revived eco-consciousness that will prepare a new generation of leadership.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Matilija Dam - Upstream Sediment Storage

Matilija Dam Design Oversight Group (DOG) Meeting
Thursday Jan 14, 2010

Project managers presented the latest proposal for dealing with sediment accumulated behind Matilija Dam. Management of 2 million cubic yards of fine sediments has become the critical issue, since significant problems arose with the slurry/downstream disposal plan outlined in the 2004 Feasibility Study. The 'fines' make up a third of the total sediment, and are concentrated in the area beneath the remnant reservoir. More history of this issue on this blog here.

The question was presented as:
  • Can a constructable alternative be developed to permanently sequester the fine sediments upstream of the dam so as to reduce impact to Lake Casitas? If so, what would be the environmental impacts and cost?
A proposal was presented for consideration by the group, with responses requested within the next four weeks.

This engineering concept involves dewatering the reservoir in order to mechanically excavate the fine sediments. The material would be transported up the canyon where it would be dried out and deposited in 2 storage areas USA 1 and USA 2 (Upstream Storage Areas 1 & 2.)

In this graphic, the yellow outlines depict the temporary sediment storage areas from the Feasibility Study. The light orange outlines are the newly proposed permanent storage sites.

The fine sediments would be permanently stabilized using soil cement revetments (designed for the 100 year storm event), and capped with coarse sediments from elsewhere in the project area. The piles would be stacked approximately 75 feet high against the canyon wall. USA 3 would contain coarser sediments to be allowed to erode over time. Permanent rip-rap protection would also be required on the opposite bank to protect Matilija Canyon Road. (When asked, engineers explained that this is needed since the USA structures will create a permanent constriction in the canyon.)

Once the fine sediments have been relocated, additional excavation is required to re-create a channel through the coarse sediments. This would be managed as in the Feasibility Study, but the exact configuration of additional sediment storage sites was not clear from the presentation. The intent, however, would be to allow the remaining 4 million cubic yards of sediment to erode downstream during large storm events.

Project managers presented the potential advantages of this concept over the slurry line as shown below:

Cost: Surprisingly, this proposal is estimated to cost over $30M, as much as the slurry disposal at MODA. Engineers stated that this is due to the extensive re-working required to dry out the silt. They anticipate turning the material over with bulldozers as many as 40 times, in an earthmoving process estimated to take 2 years.


The Corps presentation Upstream Storage Area Slideshow Presentation from the January 14, 2010 DOG Meeting (January 2010) is online along with other documents at

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Filmmaker Rich Reid and I attended the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival this past weekend. Watershed Revolution was one of 145 films selected from over 300 submissions to this prestigious event. The weekend was sold out, and our film played to over 200 viewers on Saturday afternoon. We were also interviewed as part of the festival media, and were able to tell the story of the Ventura River.

We are excited to announce that the festival will be on tour in Ventura on March 12-13, 2010. The two-evening event will feature hand-picked selections from the festival, and is sponsored by the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy. Tickets are now available on their website at

Ventura Wastewater in the News

On January 5, 2010, the Wishtoyo Foundation and its Ventura Coastkeeper Program filed a notice of intent to sue the City of Ventura for ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act relating to the city's sewage system. For Ventura Coastkeeper’s documents detailing Ventura’s WRF sewage effluent violations and Ventura’s sewage spills visit:

More on this topic here:

In the news:

Environmental group to sue Ventura

It says sewage treatment plant is hurting Santa Clara River estuary

By Zeke Barlow

An environmental group has taken the first step in filing a lawsuit against the city of Ventura, claiming it does not adequately treat the effluent it dumps into the Santa Clara River estuary.

“Decades of paying the minimum penalty to pollute as a cost of conducting business, instead of implementing feasible solutions to safeguard public health, resident well-being, the steelhead, and the Santa Clara River ecosystem” must stop in favor of government action to protect the public interest for current and future generations, Jason Weiner, Ventura Coastkeeper’s associate director and staff attorney, said in a news release.

The city has a permit to put about 9 million gallons of effluent it treats at the nearby sewage facility into the estuary. It is one of the few places in the state with a permit to discharge into an estuary.

(full story here)

A wish for the Santa Clara River Estuary

By Michael Sullivan 01/14/2010

The Wishtoyo Foundation’s Ventura Coastkeeper Program, a local nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy, filed a notice of intent to sue the city of Ventura for illegally discharging toxic waste from its sewage plant into the Santa Clara River Estuary and Ventura’s coastal waters, which are violations of the California Clean Water Act, on Jan. 5. As of Monday, Jan. 11, City Attorney Ariel Calonne said, after a closed session meeting on the same day regarding the threatened litigation, “No reportable action has been taken.”

Paul Jenkin, the environmental director of the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental advocacy group dedicated to protecting the ocean, waves and beaches, said his group has been aware of the condition of the Santa Clara River mouth and estuary for years, indicating it wasn’t necessarily lethally toxic, but could pose such a threat.

“Historically, [the Surfrider Foundation] did do ocean water sampling,” Jenkin said. “The Santa Clara River mouth was a hot spot for high bacteria counts. It was a problem at the mouth, and we did track it. Clearly, if there are violations, it would increase the pressure on the city to improve it.”

Jenkin did note, however, that there is a simpler solution than costly improvements to the treatment of sewage: reuse of gray water. He said that the most likely and cost efficient answer would be on a home-by-home basis — that residents would reuse and/or contain water from their bathtubs and sinks, and gray water could be used for irrigation, rather than treating all “used” water as if it was sewage.