Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Matilija Reservoir March 2020

Matilija Reservoir March 17, 2020
It appears that our March rainfall event moved more sediment into Matilija reservoir.   Flows in the upstream delta are currently split so that the remnant reservoir has two inlets, one on each bank.  Last year saw significant deposits at the right bank (background of this photo.)  Here, new deposits are visible on the left bank (in the foreground of the photo).

Matilija Reservoir March 21, 2020
By March 21, the reservoir elevation had been lowered due to Casitas Municipal Water District's operations to release water from Matilija reservoir for downstream diversion at Robles.  This revealed the extent of the sedimentation, and allowed the inlet flows to erode a channel.  Note that although the creek was flowing clear, the reservoir still had suspended sediment lingering from earlier in the week.

The hydrograph below shows the flows recorded at USGS gages just below Matilija Dam (red line 11114495) and downstream at Foster Park (green line 11118500).  The difference between these lines is approximately what is diverted into Lake Casitas (excepting other inflow from North Fork Matilija Creek.)  Note the small peak at Foster Park on March 19 when the operation of Robles diversion was temporarily interrupted for maintenance.

On this blog: Ventura River post-fire sedimentation 2019

USGS Flow gages:
Foster Park:
Matilija Creek:

Casitas Municipal Water District diversions:

Friday, March 13, 2020

Lower Ventura River - a decade of cleanup

Almost a decade after the initial cleanup in the lower Ventura River, nonprofits and volunteers continue to take on the endless role as "Trash man" to those who leave their waste in the river bottom.

This video illustrates the dirty job undertaken by Dan Hulst, Preserve Director with the Ventura Land Trust.  It is still a full time job...

The Lower Ventura River from Jason Hernandez on Vimeo.

Looking back to 2011, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, seeking to bring attention to a growing problem,  performed surveys of the area and estimated over 200 people living in the river bottom with no trash or sanitary facilities.  The sheer volume of toxic and human waste poised to flush into the ocean was overwhelming.

In 2012, the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy, now Ventura Land Trust, acquired the property downstream of the Main Street bridge.  Working through a process set up through a Trash TMDL, local authorities served eviction notices to the camps, and the Conservancy was able to come in and clean up the mess.

Eviction Day (2012) from Matt Linkin on Vimeo.

Ventura Land Trust continues to monitor and maintain the area, working with law enforcement and organizing volunteer workdays to clean up the never-ending mess.  A long term solution has yet to be developed, but social service agencies and nonprofits continue to make progress on improving access to shelters and transitional housing for those who desire.

For more information and to volunteer, contact:

Dan Hulst, Preserve Director, Ventura Land Trust:

Ben Pitterle, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper:

On this blog:

Stream Team Trash Survey
Salmon Run focuses on trash issue

VHC River Cleanup
More River Cleanups

Ventura River Cleanup short film

Monday, February 24, 2020

Matilija Dam meetings February 2020

On February 11, 2020 two meetings were held to update stakeholders on progress being made on the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project.  Technical studies have been underway since 2018 with support from a $3.3 million grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As the earlier studies suggest, removal of the dam and release of the impounded sediment has implications for much of the infrastructure downstream including bridges, levels, and water supply components.  The current work has been focused on the feasibility of the new dam removal method, analyzing the sediment transport, and re-evaluating the downstream infrastructure needs.

The Technical Stakeholder Group met from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm at Ventura County's Saticoy Operations Yard.  The agenda was filled with technical presentations from the project consultants:

1. Welcome and Introductions – WPD – Peter Sheydayi
2. Dam Removal Contract - AECOM and Stillwater Sciences
      a. Field Investigations
      b. Dam Structural Evaluations
      c. Sediment and Hydraulic Analysis
      d. Predictability of Flushing Event
      e. Re-evaluation of downstream Project Components and Real Estate Plan
      f. Short-term Water Supply Mitigation Alternatives Refinement
      g. Long-term Water Supply Mitigation Alternatives Refinement (Robles)
3. Santa Ana Bridge – WPD
4. Camino Cielo Bridge – Dokken
5. Levees (Casitas Springs, Live Oak Acres, Meiners Oaks) – Tetra Tech
6. Coastal Sediment Studies – Integral
7. CEQA Update and Permit Plan – Aspen
8. Project Schedule and Upcoming Grants – WPD
9. Closing – WPD (5 min) – Peter Sheydayi

The evening Community Stakeholder Update meeting  was held from 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm at the Oak View Park and Resource Center Auditorium.

1.    Welcome and Introductions – Andrew Spyrka (VCRCD), Glenn Shephard (VCWPD)
2.    Project Overview – Peter Sheydayi (VCWPD), Paul Jenkin (Surfrider Foundation)
3.    Funding Updates – Hans Cole (Patagonia, Inc.), David Yardas (Project Consultant)
4.    Organizational Updates  – Sam Jenniches (State Coastal Conservancy)
5.    Technical Updates  – Peter Sheydayi, Brian Person (AECOM)
6.    Project Schedule – Peter Sheydayi
7.    Questions and Discussion – Public and Presenters
8.    Closing  – Glenn Shephard, Andrew Spyrka

In case you missed it, the evening meeting was recorded and up on the Ventura River Watershed Council's YouTube channel:

On this blog:

Matilija Dam State Prop 1 grant

More on the CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife grants:

Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Ventura River Adjudication – Remembering the Past

Mission San Buenaventura
founded March 31, 1782
water supply through aqueduct
from the Ventura River
 at what is now Foster Park
The current controversy surrounding the adjudication of water rights to the Ventura River has focused on the most recent efforts by the City of Ventura to secure its water rights to the Ventura River.  Many may not know that this effort has deep roots in the past.

The City of Ventura was incorporated in 1886, but it claim to the waters of the Ventura River extend back to the establishment of Mission San Buenaventura in 1782.  In addition to the Missions, the Spanish and Mexican governments also established a series of Pueblos and Ranchos between 1769 and 1835 in what later became the state of California. Despite its not being a successor to one of the eight original Spanish or Mexican Pueblos, the City has periodically asserted its claim to the waters of the Ventura River based on a Pueblo water right.

In 1976 the City of Ventura attempted to assert a Pueblo water right against the Casitas Municipal Water District.  The appropriative water rights granted to Casitas in the 1950’s required them to bypass the first 20 cubic feet per second of flow at the Robles Diversion to protect downstream water rights.  The City claimed, however, that this provision did not fully protect its Pueblo water rights.

Conjunctive Use

Ojai Valley News, Feb 18, 1979
To resolve this dispute, without formally asserting and establishing the City’s Pueblo water right, the City and Casitas proposed to enter into a Conjunctive Use Agreement. This agreement would have allowed Casitas to divert all of the low flow of the Ventura River at its Robles Diversion (up to 500 cubic feet per second) to Lake Casitas.  In exchange Casitas would guarantee the City up to 6,000 acre-feet of water annually from Lake Casitas.

In 1978, the Friends of the Ventura River filed a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Impact Report’s conclusion that the Conjunctive Use Agreement would not adversely affect the Ventura River.  In 1984, after losing in the lower courts, the California Supreme Court rejected the City’s appeal, effectively terminating the Conjunctive Use Agreement.

Endangered Species and Clean Water

In 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed steelhead trout in southern California as an endangered species. Rather than comply with new regulatory requirements, the City decided to forego surface diversion and instead rely on its wells at Foster Park.

In 1998, the State of California formally recognized that the Ventura River was impaired by excessive pumping and diversions pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act.

In 2003 NMFS sent a letter notifying the City that the continued operation of the Foster Park wells posed a serious threat to steelhead. In 2007 NMFS issued a “draft jeopardy biological opinion” that specified a minimum flow to protect steelhead at Foster Park.  In response, the City chose to postpone repairs and enlargement of its well field, and recommenced the operation of its other existing wells in the Foster Park area.

A Dry River

In 2013, the City’s hydrology consultants concluded that their pumping was detrimental to critical habitat for endangered steelhead in the Ventura River. The City continued to pump unabated, and from 2014 to 2016 the Ventura River was pumped completely dry at Foster Park for a significant portion of the year.

In 2014, after many years of monitoring water quality in the Ventura River under a program certified by the State, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper filed a lawsuit asking the State to compel the City to reduce its pumping at Foster Park consistent with NMFS requirements. The City responded by petitioning to have the lawsuit dismissed and also simultaneously filed cross-complaints against all other water right holders in the watershed.  The Court rejected the City’s petition.

In 2018, the Appellate Court allowed the City’s cross-complaint against all water right holders to proceed. In 2019, the City signed an interim agreement with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, based on the NMFS 2007 jeopardy biological opinion, and entered into a court-sponsored settlement agreement process with major water purveyors and several major agricultural landowners.


In January 2020, the City of Ventura commenced adjudication by serving legal summons to over 10,000 individual water rights holders in the Ventura River watershed.

(note: Adjudication is just a fancy word for suing everybody in the basin, and to resolve groundwater rights, you have to bring in all the users.)

Ventura Assistant City Manager, Akbar Alikhan, responding to questions about the Ventura River adjudication, claimed “…this is not a water grab. We are trying to find a solution that balances the needs of the local habitat while still providing the valuable water to our local residences.” 

Given the City’s long history of claiming unlimited, and unrestricted rights to the waters of the Ventura River, is it reasonable to ask what that balance will be?

Residents who use the watershed, whether as water supply or outdoor recreation, have a stake in the outcome of this latest chapter in the long history of exploitation of the Ventura River.

In the press:

Ventura River adjudication: Remembering the past, Ojai Valley News,  Friday, 14 February 2020



The Friends of the Ventura River maintains a library of documents:

Ventura River 1978 Conjunctive Use Agreement & DEIR (Part 1), Casitas MWD & City of SanBuenaventura, June 1978

Ventura River 1978 Conjunctive Use Agreement & DEIR (Part 2) Casitas MWD & City of SanBuenaventura, June 1978

Friends Prevents River Untimely Death, Ojai Valley News, Feb 1979

It's Your River Too!, Ojai Valley News, March 1979

100 Trout Lead Court to Reject Plan to Tap Ventura Water, LA Times, June 1988

2013 Comprehensive Water Resources Report (Ventura), City of Ventura, 2013

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Complaint v. State Water Resources Control Board and the City of San Buenaventura, Sep 2014

Ventura River Watershed Adjudication Website, City of Ventura, 2020

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Ventura Initiates Adjudication

January, 2020 - Over 10,000 residents in the Ventura River watershed were formally served with a legal notice of water rights adjudication.  The City of Ventura initiated this adjudication in response to Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper's legal action to compel the city to leave water in the Ventura River.  Pumping at the City's Foster Park well field has dried up the river for months at a time during the recent drought.  The City's cross complaint contends that upstream pumping and diversion are part of the problem.

This action, taken without any advanced notice, has created confusion and community backlash against the City.

1 10 20 Groundwater basisns
Groundwater Basins
Perhaps most confusing is how this legal action will affect ongoing efforts by local water agencies to comply with the State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).  This state law was enacted in 2014 to develop sustainable management of groundwater basins throughout California.

"the SGMA process offers a lot of promise in bringing local groups together to devise groundwater management solutions that are tailored to local conditions.  When stakeholders come together and agree, they have good leadership, then the path forward is going to be a lot smoother.  

... the Las Posas and City of Ventura adjudications will be the first under the new law, so it will be interesting to see how these cases lay the foundation for how the SGMA process in these streamlined adjudications will play out on the ground.  

Even with the new legislation, adjudications are going to remain expensive, time consuming, and take a lot of resources... advancing the SGMA process, if people can’t come together to come to an agreement, there are probably ways to use those streamlined adjudications to establish clear deadlines in how to move forward while also creating certainty around pumping rights."

- Christina Babbitt, Environmental Defense Fund
            (see CA WATER LAW SYMPOSIUM: Groundwater adjudication under SGMA)

And they say imitation is the highest form of flattery: the City of Ventura buys domain for their delayed PR campaign:

Below are links to news and information that help explain the complexities surrounding this issue:

Adjudication and SGMA:

Ventura River Watershed Adjudication Website, City of Ventura

 Restoring Flows in the Ventura River, Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper

Introduction to SGMA, The Groundwater Exchange

CA WATER LAW SYMPOSIUM: Groundwater adjudication under SGMA, Maven's Notebook, March 21, 2019

Groundwater Pumping Allocations under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Environmental Defense Fund, July 2018

 Handbook for Water Budget Development: With or Without Models, California Department of Water Resources (DWR), draft Feb 2020


Local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies:

Upper Ventura River Groundwater Agency 

Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency

In the news:

Ventura vs. Ojai: Water war escalates — Certified letters with legal notices and summonses flood Ojai Valley, Ojai Valley News, Thursday, 09 January 2020

Watershed adjudication is the nuclear option VC Star Opinion by Alasdair Coyne, Jan 25, 2020                                                                                                  

Watershed Moment - Petrochem sold as water war looms in the Ventura River Watershed, VC Reporter, Jan 15, 2020

City of Ventura faces calls to drop legal action, water adjudication, VC Star Feb 1, 2020

Thousands served, noticed in Ventura's water lawsuit may get reprieve, VC Star, Feb 4, 2020


Casitas backs extension for 14000 or so people served, noticed in Ventura's water lawsuit, VC Star, Feb 17, 2020

Court expected to decide this week on extension for those noticed in Ventura River lawsuit, VC Star, Feb 24, 2020

Court Grants Extension in Ventura River Lawsuit, VC Star, Feb 27, 2020

Guest columnist: Water lawsuit is about more than a fish, Ben Pitterle, Your Turn, VC Star, March 7, 2020

On this blog:

ChannelKeeper sues to save a drying river

ChannelKeeper settlement on City's pumping

Monday, December 16, 2019

Surfers' Point Phase 2 update

The Surfers Point Working Group met on October 29, 2019.

Final design of Phase 2 of the Surfers' Point Managed Shoreline Retreat project is ongoing.  The consultant team presented the latest design, with much of the discussion concerned lighting, fences, and other ammenties as well as a preliminary design for fixing the stormwater system to eliminate the problem with sand and silt clogging the filters and pumps.  The new parking lots will be paved with asphalt to eliminate erosion of silt and sand.  The runoff is to be filtered in bioswales at the bottom of the hill by the fairgrounds arena before being pumped up to the clarifier and out to the river mouth. The next step will include a coastal analysis for the beach side from the Phase 1 dune area down towards the bathrooms.

Last month, the City with assistance from BEACON applied for a $3M grant for construction.  This would cover about half the cost through a federal program administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for “Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund 2019

Due to ongoing concerns with parking layout, Surfrider submitted the following comments:

To: Surfers Point Working Group
From: Paul Jenkin, Surfrider Foundation
Date: November 27, 2019
RE: Working Group Meeting October 29, 2019

This memo is a follow up to our last Working Group meeting. During the meeting I repeated concerns regarding the parking layout that has been developed. It is important that the project takes advantage of the opportunity to optimize the quantity of parking, both for Fairgrounds operations and day use public beach access.

After reviewing the October 29 powerpoint presentation we would like to share a few comments:

First, it would be more representative of the project if the new “Shoreline Drive” parking lot was labeled the “Phase 2” lot, as it is in fact the completion of the currently existing “Phase 1” parking lot.

Second, the spaces in the future “Phase 2” overflow parking lot are counted as day use, which somewhat distorts the net gain in parking from the project.

In the table below, day use parking is distinguished from the Fairgrounds overflow parking lot. The project proposes to enlarge the Phase 1 lot to 134 spaces, slightly exceeding the original design specification for 130. However, the existing 120 Beach Parking spaces are reduced to only 54 with the new “Shoreline Drive” lot. “Surf check” spots are also reduced from 32 to 24. Although there is still a net increase in beach parking, it actually only amounts to 9 additional day use spaces.

Surfrider requests that the consultants work closely with the Fairgrounds and the rest of the Working Group to carefully consider the tradeoffs associated with the permanent large roundabout in the middle of the new parking area along Shoreline Drive. Is this necessary for day to day use, or mostly for bigger events? Could this be lined out with removable barriers for events? Alternatively, could large trucks access the Fairgrounds through the other roundabout? Is there an opportunity to increase the number of beach parking spaces here and near the other roundabout and entry kiosk?

For reference, attached in this memo are the recent powerpoint slides as well as the original design parking layout. Also included is the layout that Surfrider provided to the Working Group in November 2017 which illustrates the potential increase in day use parking.

I hope this information is helpful to the Working Group. We all have an interest in optimizing the number of parking spaces both for Fairgrounds events and daily public beach access.

Matilija Hot Springs cleared

Sign at Matilija Hot Springs summarizes the historical significance of the site

The Matilija Hot Springs lies directly downstream of Matilija Dam.  The site has a rich history dating back to the 1800's and has alternated between a privately operated resort and County owned park.  The most recent transition occurred during planning for dam removal when Ventura County re-acquired the property using a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy.  The property has a history of flooding during extreme events, and dam removal is expected to greatly increase the flood risk as sediment is released back into Matilija Creek.

With planning for dam removal ongoing, the historic nature of the site has led to lengthy discussions over the fate of the existing infrastructure.  A comprehensive summary of the site was conducted in 2012,  Historical Resources Assessment Matilija Hot Springs Ventura County, CA. A complete chronology of the site begins on page 51 of this report, which includes vivid descriptions from past newspaper articles:

The gorge is a picturesque and wildly beautiful one. Its altitude is 1,000 feet above the sea and the air is delightfully bracing. The mountains rise above the nook on which the springs buildings are located some 1200 feet, rocky and precipitous” (Ventura Free Press, April 11, 1902).

Structures identified in the 2102 Historical Resources Assessment Matilija Hot Springs

Then in December 2017 the entire site was burned in the Thomas Fire.

According to the Ventura County Star, "The remnants of the historic Matilija Hot Springs resort near Ojai are set to be demolished in the next few weeks amid lingering questions over whether anything could be saved after the Thomas Fire left much of it in rubble. "

"Located northwest of Ojai, the site held one of California’s famous mineral springs resorts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The entire 9-acre property, including hot springs, a cold-water spring and the buildings, is designated as a Ventura County historic landmark. Of particular note were a post office and swimming pool dating from the early 1900s, according to a historian who surveyed the site several years before the fire. "

"Nothing will be left except a historical marker after the demolition is completed in January, said Glenn Shephard, director of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District. The agency owns the property that is expected to become a staging area for the removal of the Matilija Dam and later turned into a public recreation area. "

This demolition represents the end of an era.  With dam removal, this special site at the entrance to Matilija Canyon will eventually be returned to the public.  In the meantime, any planning for future of this area will begin with a "clean slate"...

Raymond Powers, who lived on site as caretaker, produced this video following the fire:


Matilija Hot Springs Site after County cleared the site, Feb 20, 2020


Historical Resources Assessment Matilija Hot Springs Ventura County, CA , Prepared for:
County of Ventura Watershed Protection District, November 2012
Matilija Hot Springs has Colorful History
Postcard: Matilija Hot Springs Pool
Postcard: Hanging Rock — A Trysting Place

In the news:

Remnants of Matilija Hot Springs resort being leveled, VC Star, Dec 15, 2019

On this blog:

Matilija Hot Springs Resort