Monday, February 8, 2010

Recreational Rivers

Saturday Feb 6, 2010:
Santa Clara River Kayak Run

I got a call Saturday morning. "Ventura River's only 70 cfs at Foster Park. But it looks like the Santa Clara may be do-able."

We are so fortunate to have two rivers in Ventura...

The rain had just started to come down in full force again. "I'm in. Let's do it!"

Most folks don't consider the recreational possibilities on these rivers in Southern California. After all, they're dry most of the time... Until they flood, and that's often not a safe option. But this year's series of storms has raised base flows so that the couple of inches of rain that fell on Friday made for potentially steady flows in the rivers.

The Ventura River had about 170cfs (cubic feet per second) in Matilija Creek, which when added to the 70 cfs in the North Fork made for over 200 cfs in the upper Ventura River. Enough to paddle a kayak in that reach of the river. The problem was that Casitas Water District was diverting the bulk of the flow into Lake Casitas at the Robles Diversion. So flows downstream of the diversion dam were still far from boat-able.

That's how four of us ended up driving out to Santa Paula with a carload of kayaks on Saturday afternoon. We put in at a steep streambank, and paddled into the fast-flowing chocolate brown river. The river quickly moved us downstream, with multiple opportunities for small surfing waves and class 2 rapids. Despite the rain and drizzle, we were having a blast!

Several miles downstream we approached the Vern-Freeman Diversion Dam. An operator on the intake works starting waving frantically at us as we approached, pointing us to the opposite bank. We knew the dam would mean a portage, and it turned out to be fairly straightforward once we bushwhacked through the willows.

After dragging our boats along the dam and lowering them down, we put back in below the man-made cascade. Paddling along the face of the dam and over to the fish intake, it was obvious why there is a need for re-design for fish passage around this facility. A fish would have a hard time detecting the fish intake from the bigger flows coming over the dam, and even then a drain pipe was delivering a muddy soup right into the entrance pool. A recent CalTrout legal settlement has initiated a design process that will hopefully remedy this problem. After all, steelhead must make it past this obstacle in order to reach the endless habitat in the Sespe Wilderness upstream.

Downstream of the diversion, things started to get a bit more urban. We passed below several large freeway bridges, wondering if anyone was noticing the small flotilla headed down the river. The bridges produced a few nice holes to play in before heading downstream again.

Down in the lower Santa Clara, just a couple of miles up from the estuary, is where things got a bit interesting. Here we almost got lost in the numerous small channels flowing through the willows. It took a bit of creative bushwhacking to find our way out to open water again. A short way downstream, we flushed out flocks of duck that became silhouetted against the sunset sky. It almost felt as if we were in another part of the state.

Tired from paddling all afternoon, and with daylight dwindling fast, I was glad to see the Harbor Blvd bridge ahead. We made the 14 miles down to the estuary from Santa Paula in about 3 hours.

We are looking forward to the next rains in the hopes that we will be able to paddle down the Ventura River. Let us know if you want to come along!

More on recreational rivers here: