Tuesday, December 1, 2020

"Enlivening The Matilija Watershed" Mural

"Enlivening The Matilija Watershed" mural
photo by Rich Reid

Culminating more than a year of planning by Ojai resident Ray Powers, the "Enlivening The Matilija Watershed" mural was revealed in a community celebration on Nov 21, 2020.  The mural was painted on removable panels at the Ojai Unified School District located at 301 N. Montgomery Street in Ojai.

The 30’x14’ mural depicts the Matilija Creek in its regenerated state after the Matilija Dam has been removed. The waters flow clear, the wildlife abundant, the flora and fauna vibrant and renewed. The beaver is featured prominently as it is a keystone species whose presence affects the entire whole of the ecosystem. The mural features the restored watershed which feeds a beaver pond where deer, bear, raccoon, and others come to drink. Oaks, sycamores and willow provide shade and a steady perch for the flyers to come and rest. The steelhead move unimpeded upstream to spawn where once they numbered into the thousands. This pristine and rejuvenated landscape is framed by the cobbled remains of the Matilija Dam which once held back the waters and marred the mouth of the canyon. Its removal signifying the steady return of the natural cycles of life.

The underlying theme of the mural is our role in bringing back the balance of these natural cycles in our ecosystem. The inherent relationship we have as stewards of the land requires reciprocal altruism.  Our ecological behavior and tendencies need to shift to insure the survival of all the native species, which in turn will provide the resources we need to thrive. Environmental education, artistic expression and a vision for the future health of the Ojai Valley watershed are the cornerstone objectives for the “Enlivening the Matilija Watershed” mural. 

Twenty-five students, ages 8-18, participated in the painting with direction from the mural artist. The mural is experienced both as an inspiring piece of art as well as an educational outdoor classroom to teach about environmental sciences and our local watershed. There will be a website devoted to the mural as an “image map” where each graphic element will be clickable with resources to learn more. Signage at the mural site will allow people to access the online image to learn as they look. 

The ceremony began with the mural hidden by a painting of Matilija Dam, which was moved away to reveal the wall-sized mural.  Watch the entire event that included talks by Ray Powers (Artistic Director, Project Manager), Dr. Tiffany Morse (Superintendent, Ojai Unified School District), Marcy Toscher (Chairperson, Ojai City Arts Commission) and Paul Jenkin (Founder, Matilija Coalition / Campaign Coordinator, Ventura Surfrider Foundation).  The reveal begins at 21:22.

Short version with Paul Jenkin and the mural reveal:

Below is a fascinating time-lapse video of the painting process:

This community art project is a partnership between four local artists, Ray Powers (artistic director, project manager, Co-Vice President Ojai Valley Green Coalition), Lisa Kelly (mural artist), Ray Cirino (permaculturist, cob builder, art fabricator) and the Ojai Unified School District (OUSD).  The project is made possible by grants from the City of Ojai Arts Commission and the Resource Legacy Fund. Thank you to the Ojai Unified School District for their in-kind donations and partnership, and the Ojai Valley News for their coverage of the mural creation and reveal celebration.

In the news:
Mural captures vision of restored Matilija watershed, Ojai Valley News, Friday, 06 November 2020
Watershed mural set for big reveal Saturday, Ojai Valley News, Friday, 20 November 2020
Mural reveal wows crowd, Ojai Valley News, Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Friday, October 30, 2020

Surfers’ Point Managed Retreat Phase 2 update

 The final design for Phase 2 of the Surfers Point Managed Shoreline Retreat Project has been completed.  The proposed project will move the fairgrounds pay parking lot back to where Shoreline Drive is today and restore a cobble and sand dune beach as protection for the new parking area.  Unfortunately cost estimates came in at over $10M dollars, around twice the initial estimates.  We are concerned that this high cost may delay construction due to difficulty finding grant funding, but Surfrider will be working with the responsible agencies to determine a path forward.  Stay tuned…

More info here: https://www.venturariver.org/2019/12/surfers-point-phase-2-update.html

Matilija Dam Environmental Review

The Ventura County Watershed Protection District (VCPWA – WP) has initiated environmental review on portions of the  the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project (MDERP.)   The updated plan to remove Matilija Dam incorporates new information garnered from recent dam removal projects as well as details regarding proposed modifications to downstream infrastructure. Although environmental review was completed in 2004 as part of the Corps of Engineers planning effort, the VCPWA – WP has determined that preparation of a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) is warranted to evaluate the revised Project. The resulting SEIR analysis will be published next year.

The environmental review will analyze the impacts from the proposed dam removal and the reconstruction of downstream levees and bridges.  Downstream components include the Camino Cielo Bridge, Live Oak Acres Levee, and Casitas Springs Levee.  

Other major downstream components of the project have not yet been adequately designed for this environmental review, and will require future analysis.  These include modifications to the Robles Diversion Dam, 3 miles downstream of Matilija Dam, and proposed flood protection for the Meiners Oaks neighborhood downstream of Robles.

More information on the environmental review process and the project may be found here: https://www.vcpublicworks.org/wp/mderp/

The Matilija Coalition submitted the following comments during the scoping period:

Removal of the Matilija Dam is necessary to reconnect the upper watershed for recovery of the federally endangered steelhead and other species of concern. Dam removal will also renew the flow of nutrients from the ocean and sediment to downstream reaches. In addition to these benefits, the dam currently impacts water quality and quantity and needs to be removed in a timely manner. The growing cost of the project is a barrier to implementation, so cost effective alternatives need to be considered.

Although an EIR is generally intended to address potential negative impacts of a project, the positive outcomes of dam removal should also be analyzed. For instance, it is currently assumed that sediment will have a negative impact to water supply downstream of the current dam site. However, the changes in the watershed following the Thomas Fire demonstrate that increased sediment transport can have a positive effect on water supply. After short term effects on shallow aquifer recharge during the first year after the fire, both surface flows and groundwater levels have responded favorably to the ecosystem changes in the mainstem Ventura river.

The following is an outline of issues and concerns that should be addressed in the SEIR:

1. Baseline conditions

a. Conditions in the watershed have changed significantly since the 2004 EIR, primarily due to the Thomas Fire which burned 95% of the upper watershed and resulted in significant sediment yield and transport downstream.

b. Matilija Reservoir capacity has been reduced to less than 100 Acre Feet, eliminating any meaningful remaining water supply benefit.

c. Total sediment accumulation behind the dam has increased, and the remaining reservoir storage will likely fill with sediment in the next large storm event.

d. The 50-year contractual agreement with Casitas Municipal Water District for operation of the dam ended in 2009.

e. Dam safety concerns have increased. Due to ongoing ASR concrete degradation the dam is categorized high hazard and could fail in an earthquake.

f. Required drawdown has eliminated remaining reservoir storage.

g. Alterations to dam operations since the reservoir was drained in July 2020 significantly impact downstream water quality.

h. The newly exposed fine sediment deposits upstream of the dam show signs of becoming a reservoir for invasive plants, particularly tamarisk.

i. Endangered steelhead populations were severely impacted by fire, and recovery in this watershed is significantly impaired by the presence of Matilija Dam.

j. Steelhead passage at Robles has improved with implementation of a fish ladder.

k. Habitat has improved as a result of invasive species control, including Arundo.

l. Habitat has improved in the mainstem Ventura River with increased sand and gravel deposits originating from effects of the Thomas Fire on the North Fork Matilija Creek.

2. Future without project

a. Sediment accumulation upstream of the dam has accelerated and coarse sediment transport over the dam crest will occur soon.

b. Water quality is impaired by the dam.

c. Endangered steelhead are threatened with extinction in this watershed.

d. Presence of the dam impairs water supply (see 3c below)

e. Existing development in the 100 yr floodplain requires improved flood protection with or without dam removal.

3. Future with project

a. Impacts of sediment discharge should be updated with new information. Since the initial EIR/EIS was developed several large dams have been removed yielding significant information on what may be expected downstream following a natural transport alternative. In every case, the predicted negative impacts did not come to pass, and the benefits far exceeded expectations.

b. Sediment transport and flood analyses should consider realistic scenarios for the assessment of downstream infrastructure.

c. The benefits of renewed sediment transport should be further investigated. Prior analyses focused on fairly abstract assessments of steelhead, riparian habitat, and natural processes. Recent post-fire observations of sedimentation in the Ventura river indicate that there are also tangible water supply benefits including enhanced surface flows and groundwater storage resulting from a restored riparian ecosystem.

4. Alternatives analysis

a. Each project component should include a “no project” alternative as baseline.

b. Mitigation for impacts of levees on riverine ecosystems should be developed in the EIR, including, but not limited to, vegetation, setback alternatives, and other means to minimize the negative effects. Lower cost green/grey and nonstructural alternatives (e.g., reinsurance policies, maintenance funds, etc) should be considered.

c. The cost of the Camino Cielo Bridge includes raising the existing road out of the 100-year floodplain. Cost savings may be had by allowing some level of flood risk during the initial sediment pulse since the few residents that use the road are accustomed to seasonal interruptions to access with the existing culvert crossing.

We hope these comments are helpful in developing the environmental analysis necessary for the removal of Matilija Dam.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Mondos Cove Stairway Preliminary Design

On Oct 21, 2020, BEACON presented a concept for improved beach access at the popular "Mondos Cove." The preliminary plan illustrates a new concrete stairway to provide access over the boulder riprap shoreline down to the beach.

The following are comments submitted on behalf of the Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation:

RE: Mondos Cove Public Beach Access Stairway Preliminary Design 

Dear Marc,

Thanks for your presentation on the preliminary design concept for improving beach access at Mondos Cove beach along Old Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County. The gentle waves at this popular beach have introduced surfing to many residents and visitors, but parking along the busy highway and access to the sand over the boulder riprap can be hazardous, especially for families with small children. Surfrider supports the efforts of BEACON to improve beach access at Mondos Cove. Please consider the following comments as you advance this important project:

Other locations should be considered for the crosswalk and stairs. The current proposal places foot traffic at the narrowest part of the highway and potentially creates a safety hazard for families waiting to cross the highway with small children, bulky beach gear, and surfboards. Safety may be improved by moving the stairway a short distance to the southeast, or providing two separate crosswalks.

The current stairway design encroaches onto the beach. Constructing stairs in the manner shown will expose the structure to unnecessary damage during winter storms. During periods of high waves waves break on the boulder revetment and there is very little sandy beach. As witnessed elsewhere in the county, wave action and impact from cobblestone and other debris will erode the proposed concrete stairway. As currently drawn, the bottom few stairs are particularly vulnerable. This situation will only worsen with rising sea levels. (See https://www.venturariver.org/2010/07/ventura-promenade-repairs.html)

Consider building the stairs parallel to the road so they are protected by a wall on the ocean side - ideally the whole structure would be within the footprint of the existing riprap. The Coastal Commission may require this as part of their permitting process. The structure will last longer with a parallel configuration, and this is what most of the private stairways look like along adjacent Pitas Point. (see attached sketch and photo)

Sketch (in red) showing alternative stairway alignment to avoid beach encroachment and minimize future damage

Aerial view of parallel stairway alignments along Pitas Point

Stairway design may be optimized by adjusting the rise and run. The current design shows 6” risers, which results in a lot of stairs and a long run. Depending on applicable code, stair rise could be increased to 7” or 8” (IRC (International Residential Code) calls for a maximum rise of 7 3⁄4”.) This would make the length of the stairs more compact, but a bit steeper.

Other materials should be considered. Given the uncertainty of future planning and accommodation for sea level rise, a simple timber stairway (or two) installed over the riprap may serve to enhance beach access for the next decade or more. This may be a cheaper and easier alternative to provide a short- to medium-term solution. Many of the adjacent homeowners have wooden accessways that seem to be quite durable.

ADA option should also include stairs. If an ADA ramp is desired, stairs should also be included. The accessway constructed with the recent seawall reconstruction down the coast did not include stairs, and the long switchbacking slope of the ADA ramp is awkward.

Consider long term planning for the site. An integrated plan should be considered to include parking, traffic control, protection of utilities, as well as beach access. For example, a seawall may be needed in the future to protect the highway and extensive utility lines on the ocean side of the street. Parking should be improved to provide a safer, cleaner environment. Signage and speed bumps or other traffic calming measures should be considered to slow traffic through this high use area. Whatever is built now should be able to accommodate future changes.

Develop an alternatives analysis. Given the limited budget for constructing improved beach access at this site, other conceptual alternatives should be developed considering the suggestions above with cost estimates in order to determine the best course of action.

Surfrider has consistently advocated for improved safety and access at Mondos Cove beach for the past two decades. We appreciate this new initiative and look forward to working with BEACON on developing a cost effective and timely solution to this important concern for all beachgoers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


There has been a considerable amount of scientific and on-the-ground research since the previous post on Re-Beavification.  This topic was met with tremendous skepticism, and outright scorn from some during the development of the Ventura River Watershed Plan.  However, new information lends credence to the idea that re-introduction of beaver to the watershed could provide significant benefits and even resolve some of the ongoing conflict over water supply.

There is a growing understanding of the concept of "slow it, spread it, sink it" as a tool in protecting and improving groundwater resources.   In general this applies to our land management practices, where shifting away from impervious "pave it and drain it" practices helps put water back in the ground.  But just as important, we should consider how past changes in our rivers and creeks have also impacted the amount of water stored underground.  

In this video, National Forest hydrologist Kami Elison explains the benefits of "Living with Beaver"


Are Beavers native to the Ventura River?

Many do not realize that before the "Gold Rush" trappers scoured every nook and cranny of the state during the "California Fur Rush."  Of course the nearby Channel Islands was a treasure trove of fur seals and sea otters, but trappers also went up the rivers for beaver.  This is described in this wikipedia article on the history of beavers in California.  As part of their Bring Back the Beaver CampaignKate Lundquist and Brock Dolman co-authored The Historical Range of Beaver in Coastal California, a peer-reviewed scientific paper re-evaluating the historic evidence of beaver on the coast of California. Ventura County is included in this research.

Why are Beavers important?

Beavers are nature's engineer, and their removal from our coastal rivers had a drastic effect on the ecosystem.  North American beaver (Castor canadensis) are what biologists call a “keystone species” as the habitat they create benefits many other species. Their dams improve water quantity and quality, increase late season flow and reduce the impacts of flooding. Beaver bank burrows and food caches provide critical habitat for many native and endangered California species. 

Here is what the Water Institute of the Occidental Art and Ecology Center has to say:

“Extensive research has recently heightened recognition of the important role beaver (Castor canadensis) can play in watershed health and climate change resiliency. The species’ ecological services include enhanced water storage, erosion control, habitat restoration and creation, listed species recovery, the maintenance of stream flows during the dry summer period, and other beneficial adaptations to our changing climate conditions."

Despite these benefits, current California beaver policy solely focuses on recreational hunting and lethal nuisance management. In response, the WATER Institute launched a Bring Back the Beaver Campaign to educate citizens about the importance of beaver. In order to improve water supply for humans and the environment and increase resilience to drought and climate change, we are working to integrate their management into California policy and regulation.

In addition to the resources on OAEC's site, the Beaver Institute has a large library of technical reference on everything from biodiversity and climate change, to experiments with man-made "Beaver Dam Analogs" that have been demonstrated to restore streams.  

Interestingly, visitors to the Ventura River have shown a tireless propensity for building pools in which to cool off in the hot months.  These human dams may in fact be a form of Beaver Dam Analog, slowing the flow, and perhaps even helping to increase our precious groundwater supply. 

Ventura River "Beaver Dam Analog" (BDA)

Below is a list of references and articles for those interested in learning more:

Bring Back the BeaverOccidental Art and Ecology Center

Beaver Institute

Keep Me Wild: Beaver:  California Department of Fish and Wildlife 

 'We became beavers' US Fish and Wildlife Service Partnering with the Scott River Watershed Council, designed a project to simulate what beavers had not been around to do for decades

Role of Beaver in Stream Ecosystems: Overview of beaver life history and habitat requirements, presentation from NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Why Beavers are Worth a Dam!  Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) advocates for statewide beaver relocation program

Beavers—Once Nearly Extinct—Could Help Fight Climate Change National Geographic; Beaver ponds keep rivers and streams wet all year, compensating for less snowpack and glacial melt. We just need to stay out of their way.

The Bountiful Benefits Of Bringing Back The Beavers, NPR Weekend Edition

Bring Back The Beavers  article includes video "How Beavers Engineer the Land" 

The Martinez Beavers: Worth A Dam

Friday, September 18, 2020

Channelkeeper and Ventura Settlement Agreement

from the press release of August 24, 2020:

 Channelkeeper and the City of Ventura Amend Settlement Agreement 

The City of San Buenaventura and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, a local environmental group, have announced an amendment to their settlement agreement in the lawsuit regarding the pumping and diversion of water from the Ventura River Watershed. Both Channelkeeper and the City remain committed to ensuring the protection of this local water source and the species that rely on it. The ongoing collaboration enables dialogue toward a locally developed solution to continue moving forward.

Under the modified terms, the City will continue the Pilot Program it implemented in 2019 to reduce its pumping and diversion of water from the Ventura River when flows drop during dry times, in order to help protect wildlife that depend on the river. The Pilot Program was originally set to expire in March of 2020, however, the City continues to honor the flow regime set in place. The most notable change with the amendment is that the City will shut down most of its pumping facilities at Foster Park when flows drop below 4 cubic feet per second (CFS), and stop all production when flows drop below 3 CFS instead of 2 CFS. The City will also use its two new gauges at Foster Park to monitor the impacts, if any, its pumping has on flow in the river at these levels.

Additionally, the City and Channelkeeper have agreed to keep a dialogue open to identify additional ways to work collaboratively on other Watershed and habitat-related public relations efforts.

“We are pleased to continue this important dialogue with Channelkeeper, and I believe this amendment strikes a balance of addressing our concerns for the species and habitat while also meeting the needs of serving our customers,” said Susan Rungren, Ventura Water’s General Manager.

This is a meaningful commitment to preserve river flows until a long-term solution is finalized, and we are glad to have been able to reach it through dialogue with the City,” said Ben Pitterle, Channelkeeper’s Science and Policy Director. The original agreement and this amendment provide added assurance to Channelkeeper for the better protection of steelhead during the dry season while the City works with other parties to propose a long-term framework that protects the Ventura River for steelhead and other instream uses and for the needs of water users, recreation, and the local economy.

In the news:


Ventura, Channelkeeper modify settlement agreement, Ojai Valley News, Aug 24, 2020


During the month of November were flows dropped to low levels at Foster Park.  The City-installed gages were reading over 4 cfs, while the USGS Ventura River gage located just downstream was reading less than 2 cfs.   Stream flow measurements were taken at Foster Park to try to groundtruth the discrepancies between the City gages and USGS.  These measurements were closer to the USGS numbers. 

measuring flows at Foster Park 11-19-2020

In response, the City arranged to meet in the field with their consultant who installed and manages their two gages.  These field measurements confirmed that the gages were reading high.   The City gages were re-staged and pumping was discontinued the next day.  The gages subsequently showed a slow increase in flows downstream from the wellfield in response to decreased pumping and diversion. 

Ventura gage V2 upstream of Foster Park wellfield
(the sharp drop reflects gage restaging)

Ventura gage V1 below Foster Park wellfield
(the sharp drop reflects gage restaging)

USGS gage 11118500 below Foster Park
shows rebound after pump shutoff

On this blog:

ChannelKeeper sues to save a drying river

ChannelKeeper settlement on City's pumping

Ventura Initiates Adjudication 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Ventura sues for indigenous water rights

More than 6 months after the City of Ventura served notices on all water rights holders in the Ventura River watershed, notices were served to the local Chumash tribal elders.  

(courtesy Ojai Valley News)

A response was published in the Ojai Valley News:

 July 10, 2020, the City of Ventura served papers on the Chumash tribal leaders, as a California Native American tribe: the Barbareño/Ventureño Band of Mission Indians, telling them their rights are subordinate to the City. All Chumash, the indigenous people, are being diminished, dismissed and insulted by the City’s assertion of Pueblo-misson rights.

On July 23, in response to nationwide and local protests, the City of Ventura removed a statue of Junípero Serra, the founder of Mission San Buenaventura.  According to the LA Times:

Serra was the founder of nine of 21 missionaries in California during the 18th century.  While he spread Roman Catholicism throughout much of California, then a Spanish territory, many Native American tribes were decimated through the introduction of foreign diseases, the destruction of villages and native plants and animals.  Natives Americans also were forced into the construction of the missions, faced high death rates and were subjected to harsh corporal punishment.


 The response to the City's lawsuit continues:

It is hypocritical of the City of Ventura in one act to vote to remove the Serra statue and on the other to assert that the city’s water rights somehow, outrageously, supersede the rights of our land’s first inhabitants. The lawsuit’s claims undermine their own values. Where is the truth and dignity of the Ventura City Council members?


On this blog: