Monday, March 11, 2024

El Niño winter swells 2023-2024


The 2023-2024 winter season has had similar coastal impacts as the 2016 El Niño event.  Higher sea levels and a signature strong Pacific storm track has focused wave energy and impacted beaches and infrastructure up and down the California coast.  In Ventura County, the beaches were stripped of sand exposing those areas most vulnerable to future sea level rise.

On December 28, 2023, the leading edge of a building pacific swell sent a storm surge over protective walls in the Pierpont neighborhood.  

A video of people and cars being flushed up the street went viral and made national news.  Ocean water and debris flooded the lanes in the Pierpont neighborhood, and there was some damage to docks at a marina in the Ventura Harbor. 


In response to this event, the City of Ventura and County firefighting units built three miles of sand berms the length of the developed beaches in Ventura and Oxnard. These berms were removed during the week of March 4 with authorization from the California Coastal Commission and Army Corps of Engineers.

A pierpont resident was quoted in the news saying, "We did have a breach, as the surge came over into my backyard in December. Then the next day, they put the berm up, and I had no worries after that. It totally disrupted my view, but that's a small price for the protection having all of your stuff ruined."  This echos the sentiment of beachfront residents who have resisted efforts to build permanent protective dunes and prevailed in a lawsuit requiring the City of Ventura to remove windblown sand accumulating in front of their properties.

Ventura County Fire Dept removing sand berm
Oxnard Shores, 3-5-2024


This event was predictable using the advanced weather and wave models currently available.  Surfers regularly use these models to know when the best conditions will occur.  In this case the swell had been monitored and tracked as it developed off the coast of Japan and built all the way across the Pacific Ocean.  The leading edge of these swells typically have a very long period indicative of the huge amount of energy from the extended "fetch" of high winds transferred to the sea surface.  The irony was the "too little too late" emergency response from local government.  Better awareness of ocean conditions and long term planning is clearly needed as climate change fuels ever bigger storm systems and rising sea levels.  Local tide gages were registering around one foot above the predicted astronomical tide, primarily a result of thermal expansion from the warm water throughout the Pacific Ocean fueled by El Niño.  These events are already happening before significant sea level rise.  According to the California Coastal Commission we can expect "as much as a 66-inch increase in sea level along segments of California's coast by the year 2100."  Under that scenario the Pierpont community will be under water much of the year.


Stormsurf wave prediction for 12-28-2023


watch the Stormsurf videos to learn more about El Niño and ocean wave generation.  

Sea Level Rise - California Coastal CommissionCalifornia Coastal Commission 

In the News:

Rogue wave injures eight, damages coastal motel in Ventura, KCLU | By Lance Orozco, Published December 28, 2023

Temporary sand berms intended to prevent coastal flooding are being removed in Ventura County, KCLU | By Lance Orozco, Published March 5, 2024

See damage from heavy surf in Ventura's Pierpont neighborhood, VC Star, Dec 29, 2023

On this blog:

Surfers Point - first real test

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Watching the dams come out: Klamath River

Last year the removal of four dams on the Klamath River began.  This week the fourth dam, Copco No. 1, was breached setting the stage for the physical removal of all four dams this spring and summer.

Video of the drawdown demonstrates what is becoming one of the the standard dam removal methods, blasting a hole in the lower part of the dam to drain the reservoir and release the sediments trapped upstream.

In the news:

Monday, January 22, 2024

More Watershed Education

 Since 2021 the Merito Foundation has organized the Ventura River Action Network for 6th through 12th graders.


The V-RAN program includes Professional Development (PD) outdoors in the field, PD webinars, Science Curricula, and stipends to science teachers of VUSD enrolled in the program. The teachers' students (~600-700 per school year) are participating in in-class science activities, virtual and in the field youth community science experiences at Ventura River Watershed, and project-based learning through the EECCOA Challenge (a green STEM competition) with cash and in-kind prizes for students, and funds to implement the most cost-effective proposal to reduce the carbon footprint of the school campus authored by the students. 

The program includes field trips to monitor the river and visit Matilija Dam.  Visit the Story Map to learn more:


Monday, December 18, 2023

Watershed Council Visits Dam

On December 14, 2023, the Ventura River Watershed Council featured the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project (MDERP).  This is the biggest project currently underway in the watershed and regular updates have been provided in this public forum over the years.  The meeting included a short presentation and discussion in the Oak View Community Center followed by a guided tour of the dam and surrounds.  The presentation and past meetings can be found here:

Ventura County has initiated the CEQA environmental review process for the updated plan for dam removal.  Scoping comments are accepted until December 20 at the link above. This meeting gave people an opportunity to see the dam up close and ask questions about planning for the removal of this obsolete structure on the Ventura River.  

Project engineer Kirk Norman presents an overview of the project 

Ventura County biologist and CEQA lead Pam Lindsey discusses Matilija Dam

Ventura County biologist and CEQA lead Pam Lindsey discusses Matilija Dam

Matilija Coalition coordinator Paul Jenkin at Matilija Dam

Friday, December 8, 2023

Watershed Education

For more than a decade, Once Upon a Watershed has provided environmental education to local schools.  The program introduces our watershed to hundreds of students every year both in the classroom and field trips along the river.  This originated from "Once upon a Wetland"  engaging students in hands-on restoration at the Ojai Meadows Preserve and featured in Watershed Revolution.  This locally produced film was aired nationwide on PBS. 

The current program is housed under The CREW, which has secured a permit from County government to take groups of students and others up to the obsolete Matilija Dam.

The tours also help demonstrate why the dam, located on 400 acres owned by the County of Ventura, needs to come down. “The single most important thing for the health of the Ventura River watershed is to remove Matilija Dam,” White said.

Despite the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approving the removal of the dam in 1998, said White, “the fact that we’re still here 25 years later looking at this big slab of concrete is somewhat frustrating.”

Not only does the dam block sediment from moving downstream and replenishing the beaches, it blocks passage of endangered southern steelhead, White told students.

What’s more, sediment backfilling the dam has tailed back so far that, in places, it’s actually made the creek higher than the access road into the canyon. “So whenever there is a flood the road gets taken out,” White said, “and that’s problematic for the people who are living in Matilija Canyon, because it’s one road in and out.” During January’s heavy downpours, residents had to be flown in and out of the canyon by helicopter.

Nearly all the public schools Once Upon a Watershed works with are Title 1 schools, “which indicates they’re in a disadvantaged or low income community,” said White, who takes fourth-, fifth- and six-graders to different places in the watershed. “We’re based in Ojai and so we run programs primarily in the Ventura River watershed.”

Once Upon a Watershed is funded by grants and operates on an annual budget of approximately $100,000, White said. OVS has been highly supportive of the program, he added.

“It’s such an important thing for young people to understand where our water comes from,” said sixth-grade teacher Ryan Lang, who grew up in Matilija Canyon and still resides there.

Once Upon a Watershed website features an interactive image map

Link to: 

Once Upon a Watershed mural

Watershed Revolution film 

Oak Grove School - Sixth Grade Trip to the Dam

On this Blog:

Watershed Revolution

Once Upon a Watershed

The Story of Our River

Salmon Run 2016

Ojai Meadows Preserve

Matilija Dam Student video - Merito Foundation program

In the News:

Lessons at the Dam, by Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News,  Nov 9, 2023 Updated Nov 13, 2023   

Friday, December 1, 2023

Headwaters to Ocean (H2O) Conference

The California Shore and Beach Preservation Association (CSBPA) and Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON) organized the 2023 Headwaters to Ocean (H2O) Conference.  This was the first big in-person gathering of professionals involved in watershed and coastal  health, restoration, and management since the COVID pandemic.

On Tuesday November 28, BEACON convened their science advisory panel and stakeholders for a morning meeting followed by lunch and guided tour of the Surfers' Point Managed Shoreline Retreat Project.  

H2O was a two day conference held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Ventura Beach on November 29-30. 

The H2O conference serves as a catalyst for collaboration across various fields, industries, institutions, and organizations united by their shared interests in topics related to water, oceans, coastal environments, sediment management, resilience, and the intersections between terrestrial and marine systems.  

A session on Surfers' Point included presentations from Paul Jenkin, Surfrider Foundation, Bob Battalio, ESA, Dave Hubbard, CRC, and Kiki Patsch, CSUCI.  The talks covered the history, engineering, dunes, and monitoring.

Paul Jenkin presented the lunchtime plenary talk, "A Lifetime of Coastal Activism; A Retrospective" or "Headwaters 2 Ocean; Ventura River, a Case Study"

H2O Conference Website:


Monday, October 30, 2023

Matilija Dam Geology

A 2007 presentation for the annual meeting of the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists provides an overview of the geologic setting of Matilija Dam.  The presentation illustrates the presence of geologic faults and foundation problems with the dam.

The presentation also includes a description of the alkali aggregate reaction that compromised the strength of the concrete and led to the 1965 "notching" to lower the dam crest.

The complete talk may be downloaded here:

THE CASE FOR REMOVING MATILIJA DAM, J. David Rogers, Ph.D., P.E., P.G. University of Missouri-Rolla and G. Mattias Kondolf, Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, Annual Meeting Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists, Los Angeles, California September 28, 2007 

On this blog:

Grand Jury on Dam Safety

Matilija Reservoir Drained