Thursday, July 9, 2020

Matilija Reservoir Drained

Matilija reservoir was drained over the 4th of July weekend.    According to county staff, this was done in response to safety concerns, as identified by the state Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) as well as the liability resulting from recreational use of the dam site. The 12" valve controlling the dam outlet was opened on the morning of Wednesday, July 1, releasing flows of approximately 30 cubic feet per second downstream.  The valve will remain open maintaining the reservoir in a drained state until the winter rains.   

Images of the drained reservoir reveal the degree of additional sedimentation since the Thomas Fire, which has reduced the storage capacity to less than 150 acre feet.  As illustrated in the photos below, the initial flush released relatively clear water, but downstream water quality degraded as flows began to cut a channel through the sediment.  The channel evolution is documented in the overview photos of the reservoir. 

Prior images on this blog:

In the news:
Matilija Reservoir Drained, Ojai Valley News, July 17, 2020 (see full article below)
How Oroville Is Changing Dam Safety in California, Public Policy Institute of California, March 28, 2018


Matilija Reservoir, July 2, 2020

Matilija Reservoir, July 3, 2020

Matilija Reservoir, July 8, 2020

Matilija Reservoir, July 12, 2020

Matilija Reservoir, July 15, 2020

Matilija Reservoir, July 22, 2020

Matilija Reservoir, July 27, 2020

Matilija Reservoir, August 4, 2020

Matilija Dam and drained reservoir,
July 8, 2020

Matilija Dam and intake to the outlet pipe,
July 8, 2020

Matilija Dam intake to the outlet pipe,
July 8, 2020

Downstream of Matilija Dam,
July 17, 2020
(courtesy S. Zach Futujma)

Confluence of North Fork (foreground) and Matilija Creek 
July 8, 2020

Camino Cielo Bridge, July 2, 2020

Camino Cielo Bridge, July 6, 2020

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River looking downstream at Camino Cielo Bridge

Ventura River at Oso trailhead crossing,
July 8, 2020

In the news:
Matilija Reservoir Drained, Ojai Valley News, July 17, 2020 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Restoring Flows to the Ventura River - Webinar

On June 11, Ben Pitterle provided an excellent overview and update on Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper's actions to restore flows to the Ventura River.  The webinar is now on YouTube:


More information and videos are on the Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper website.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Covid crush

The global pandemic led to closures of beaches and trails around the world.  But differing levels of enforcement in neighboring jurisdictions led to unintended consequences.

The closure of beaches and trails in LA County resulted in significant overcrowding in Ventura County.  This prompted Ventura County to close beach parking up and down the coast, and jurisdictions such as Conejo Open Space District to close their trails.  This forced people further north.

Although beach parking was closed in the City of Ventura, beach access remained open.  Word travels quickly these days, and the crowds soon converged.

Crowds converge at C-St in Ventura with beach closures to the south, May 2, 2020
(Surfline webcam)

The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy's Ventura River Preserve, a relative unknown to out-of-towners, also quickly became a popular hot spot.   Overcrowding on weekends became such a problem that they too ultimately had to close trailheads on weekends starting May 15.

OVLC preserves have been experiencing an unprecedented high level of use resulting in significant resource management issues.

In an attempt to stay open for the past two weekends, OVLC took the extraordinary step of hiring outside security to remind folks of preserve rules and try to manage the crowds. While this has helped, streambank habitats and water quality are still being noticeably harmed. Visitors are trampling vegetation, disturbing the streambed, and have left mountains of trash.

Unfortunately, these issues leave us no choice but to close the Ventura River Preserve Trailheads (Oso, Riverview, and Old Baldwin Road) for the remainder of the month of May, Fridays – Mondays.

If one thing became more clear than ever, outdoor access is important, and even more during the pandemic.  With layoffs and families stuck inside with all beaches and trails closed within the metropolis to our south, Ventura County has been the closest escape.

In the news:

Patchwork of jurisdictions and closures add confusion to beach, park access
Ventura County closes Foster Park over crowds and illegal parking; cars clog Highway 150
Authorities respond to gunshot victim in Matilija Canyon
Coronavirus: Some call for parking restrictions after crowds slam local hiking trail
Trail-goers urged to avoid Wildwood this weekend as crowds, problems persist
Coronavirus: The latest on parking lot closures at Santa Monica Mountains parks, trails
Governor singles out Orange County beaches, spares Ventura County from closures

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Matilija Dam final design grant approved

Another grant has been approved for the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project.  $5M from the state Wildlife Conservation Board will fund final design and engineering for the removal of the dam as well as downstream levees.  This funding will keep the project moving forward after the current work under a $3.3M California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) grant is completed in 2021 and get these projects "shovel ready."

Concept illustration of Matilija Dam with two 12' diameter holes to flush sediment from the reservoir

An excerpt from the press release at CDFW News:

At its May 20, 2020 quarterly meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved approximately $36.2 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Some of the 31 approved projects will benefit fish and wildlife — including some endangered species — while others will provide public access to important natural resources. Several projects will also demonstrate the importance of protecting working landscapes that integrate economic, social and environmental stewardship practices beneficial to the environment, landowners and the local community.
Funding for these projects comes from a combination of sources including the Habitat Conservation Fund and bond measures approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources.
Funded projects include:
  • A $5 million grant to the Ventura County Watershed Protection District for a planning project that will complete final design plans for Matilija Dam removal and for three downstream levee construction/rehabilitation projects as essential components of the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project, a watershed-scale dam removal initiative and one of California’s largest dam removal efforts located five miles northwest of Ojai in Ventura County
... For more information about the WCB please visit

With support from the Resources Legacy Foundation (RLF) through its Open Rivers Fund, the Matilija Dam Funding Committee has successfully assisted the Ventura County Watershed Protection District in raising over $20M towards the removal of the obsolete Matilija Dam.  This latest news confirms the successful strategy outlined in the 2017 Funding Plan developed for this complex project:

Concurrent with the design work undertaken with the CDFW Prop 1 grant funds, the Subcommittee will actively pursue additional funding to enable design and construction of those individual Project components that are not likely to be significantly altered in bringing the Project to 65% design ready. Such funding would advance the Project on a faster timeline. Moreover, developing “shovel ready” project components will be critical to securing funding from currently existing state funding sources and evolving legislative opportunities. If successful, this strategy will not only lead to dam removal sooner, but significantly reduce the overall cost of the Project.

Matilija Dam Grant Funding 2016-2020

Dec 2016-2020  Resources Legacy Fund/Open Rivers Project          $707,500
May 2017          CDFW    65% Design Planning Project                  $3,300,504
Sept 2017          NFWF     Estuarine and Coastal Modeling                $278,002
May 2019          CDFW     Santa Ana Bridge Replacement            $13,426,938
May 2020          WCB       Final Design                                             $5,025,000
Total:                                                                                               $22,737,944  

On this blog:

November 30, 2016
Hewlett Foundation support for Matilija Dam Removal

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Promenade Emergency Repairs

During the week of January 6, 2020, City crews were notified of a large void beneath the Ventura Promenade. Upon inspection, it was discovered that the revetment and foundation material had eroded away.

Sandbag temporary protection, Ventura Promenade
February 8, 2020

The City initially pumped concrete to fill the void under the walkway to prevent collapse.

The final project phase consists of installing approximately 200 linear feet of up to 4-Ton size rock revetment along the beach side of the Promenade starting just east of the beach access stairs at Paseo de Playa. Work began the week of May 1 and access along the promenade will be blocked while construction is underway. More information here.

Equipment placing boulders, Ventura Promenade, May 5, 2020
(photo from webcam

It has been almost a decade since the last time rocks were placed in front of the promenade.  At that time sufficient funding was not available for the planned improvements, including replacing the stairs and installing a shower at Paseo de Plaza.  As predicted, that section of the promenade will soon need a re-work.  

Ventura Promenade, ongoing erosion at the site of the last reinforcement in 2011

Work is currently being done under an Emergency Permit from the Coastal Commission.  By definition, the Coastal Act provides for "emergency" when "unforeseen" events occur.  Will this next section of the promenade be another "emergency" or will the City undertake comprehensive planning and budgeting to maintain our beaches?

Unfortunately this 50-year-old infrastructure is showing its age, and the cost of maintaining or replacing it may become untenable in the face of rising seas.

On this blog:   Ventura Promenade repairs, May 11, 2011

City of Ventura:

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Elwah steelhead success story

More good news from the Elwah River...  An article in Northwest Sportsman reveals the incredible resilience of the steelhead which have rebounded faster than predicted following the removal of two dams on the Elwah River in Washington State.  The video, "Rising from the Ashes" tells the story from the perspective of the dedicated biologists and volunteers who have undertaken annual snorkel surveys on the remote and hard to access river in the wilderness of the Olympic National Park.

The rapid recovery of the summer steelhead on the Elwah demonstrate the value of resident rainbow trout above dams.  Given the chance, even after 100 years with no possibility of returning from the ocean, these fish can make a comeback.

This is real world confirmation of the hope for recovering the endangered southern steelhead populations blocked by Matilija Dam.  With no human intervention, other than just getting out of the way, we can realize a rapid recovery of the native fish and the ecosystem on which we all rely.

New Film Highlights Elwha Summer-runs ‘Rising From The Ashes’, Northwest Sportsman, April 23, 2020

On this blog: steelhead

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Ecosystem flows

Natural flows in rivers throughout the American West have been significantly disrupted by dams and diversions, groundwater extraction, land use changes, and other human influences.  Over time this has led to the decline of freshwater ecosystems to the point that many species have become endangered.  For instance, rivers rely on natural floods for maintenance of the river channel and floodplain, and flow of critical nutrients and biota.  Large dams mute or eliminate downstream flooding (winter flood pulses) by capturing these flows in a reservoir.  Similarly most western rivers are drying up during the dry months (summer/early fall base flows), an increasing concern with more frequent drought and heat due to climate change, and the primary concern on the Ventura River.

Functional Flows, figure from "A Path Forward for California's Fresh Water Ecosystems", PPIC 2019
The diagram shown here illustrates alterations to the natural flow regime throughout the year and a proposed "Functional flow regime."  The aim of functional flows is to re-establish some of the basic river functions in highly modified systems to restore ecosystem function.

The question is how to develop a management paradigm to allocate water to functional flows and ecosystem health?

A recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California presents the case for Ecosystem Based Management as a solution to California's water problems.  Maven's Notebook presents an excellent summary of recent discussions along with the technical references.

In particular, this report concludes that the current management focus on endangered species is failing, and we need a more holistic approach:

Ecosystem-based management emphasizes the simultaneous management of water, land, and species to improve ecosystem condition for native biodiversity and human uses. It shifts the management emphasis to the social, economic, and environmental benefits that come from healthy ecosystems, rather than narrowly focusing on mitigating harm to protected species.

Sustainable watershed management plans, backed by binding comprehensive agreements, are the best way to accomplish ecosystem-based management. These agreements can be adopted by state and federal regulators to meet Clean Water Act and ESA requirements and can align other agency priorities and actions.

With ecosystem-based management, there are a suite of actions available.  The first is to establish an ecosystem water budget that is an allocation of water for the environment that functions much like a senior water right that can store, trade, and flexibly allocate that water to respond to changing conditions.

An outline of this management approach is presented in the PPIC Policy Recommendations:

Promote inclusive planning and governance

  • Identify the desired ecosystem condition
  • Establish metrics
  • Provide strong scientific support
  • Set up transparent governance
  • Ensure reliable funding

Employ multiple ecosystem management tools
  • Establish ecosystem water budgets
  • Employ functional flows
  • Manage native and non-native species
  • Manage at the appropriate scale

Encourage sustainable watershed management plans
  • Align agency actions
  • Promote comprehensive agreements
  • Set timelines and backstops
  • Update water quality control plans
  • Incentivize or mandate plans

It is important to highlight the differences between ecosystem-based management and other, often similar approaches. For example, 

      * ecosystem management seeks to manage the ecosystem for species conservation goals and objectives, such as resilient populations of native plants and animals. This is accomplished principally by constraining land and water use and often uses recovery of protected species as a primary objective. In contrast, 

      * ecosystem-based management integrates human uses into the setting of conservation goals and objectives, balancing the uses of the resource. Ecosystem-based management also differs from 

      * Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), which focuses principally on coordination and funding of local water management projects while managing their impacts on ecosystems.

Renewed discussion of Ecosystem-based Management supports the vision presented in the Ventura River Ecosystem blog.  This approach applies readily to the Ventura River Watershed, especially with ongoing planning for this priority basin under SGMA.  The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act provides for self-organized groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) and required groundwater sustainability plans.  However, in our case the Ventura River would ideally combine the two existing GSA's into a single watershed-based agency to better realize the Ecosystem-based management approach.

On this blog:

Ventura River; Ecosystem-based Management


text in italics above quoted from: 

Mavens Notebook: Ecosystem-based Management: A New Paradigm for Managing California's Freshwater Ecosystems

A Path Forward for California’s Freshwater Ecosystems, PPIC Water Policy Center, December 2019

More information: