Friday, December 28, 2007

Tales of the Ventura River

Visit with the old-timers at Phil's Barber Shop as they reminisce about the "good old days" when the Ventura River ran free.

Also see here:

This video is long, but contains some interesting insight into the history of the watershed, and how water supply and flood control altered the historic runs of steelhead and the natural public trust assets that today, sadly, balance on the brink of extinction...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ojai Quarry Impacts the Ventura River

In March, 2006, rock mining operations at the Ojai Quarry on Highway 33 caused a landslide that blocked the North Fork of Matilija Creek with large boulders and debris. Despite newspaper articles and the involvement of numerous government agencies, the creek remains blocked as yet another winter steelhead migration season begins.

As these photos show, sediment was pushed down the slope to cover the rock slide. As a result, runoff from the quarry discharges fine sediment into the creek during rain events.

Video shot on December 18, 2007 documents the impacts to the creek. The Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper turbidity meter was out of range downstream (>1100 NTU) , while we recorded average readings of 100NTU directly upstream of the quarry.

This is especially significant considering that in 2006 Casitas Municipal Water District counted 14 adult steelhead trout passing upstream through their new $8 million fish ladder. The fish ladder was constructed in 2004 to allow the endangered trout access to their upstream spawning grounds. Unfortunately, all this effort and expense appears to have been in vain, at least as one can determine from recent events along the North Fork of Matilija Creek.

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North Fork Matilija Creek has been identified as the highest quality steelhead trout habitat currently accessible within the entire Ventura River Watershed. And six years of water quality monitoring by the Ventura River Stream Team (a joint program run by Surfrider Ventura and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper) clearly demonstrate that this creek contains the most pristine water throughout the entire watershed. Until Matilija Dam is removed, this endangered species is restricted to five miles of spawning and rearing habitat in the North Fork of Matilija Creek. The blockage at the quarry reduces available stream habitat to less than one mile.

Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper research indicates that the quarry has constantly been out of compliance with the Conditional Use Permit issued by the County of Ventura since its approval in 1995. During environmental review at that time, public objections were brushed aside, citing “overriding considerations” that make this business necessary regardless of the impacts. (The quarry supplies rock for the Flood Control District's streambank hardening projects throughout the county.)

Meanwhile, Ventura County has been awarded of millions of dollars in state funding for “watershed restoration,” both for the removal of Matilija Dam and Integrated Regional Watershed Management. Yet the responsible agencies fail to enforce violations of the quarry's permit, as well as violations of the federal Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Storm Drain filters

As crews went to work to repair the stormdrain before paving my street, it seemed like another missed opportunity... especially as we have been working to promote our "Ocean Friendly Gardens" and green infrastructure solutions to urban runoff.

This is the top of the 10 foot square concrete box culvert once known as "Prince Barranca." The situation gained more meaning as the rain began to fall...

There are alternatives... Here's one manufactured solution for retrofit of urban stormdrains:

Stormwater Bioretention Filtration System

These are an effective (but fairly expensive) solution for retrofit of existing storm drains. This company's website has a nice animated graphic showing how this works - capture and infiltrate "first flush" stormwater runoff (or your day-to-day flows like car washing or sprinkler over-spray) as well as trash and debris, while providing a bypass for higher storm flows.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ventura Wastewater Treatment Plant

Anyone who surfs or swims near the mouth of the Santa Clara River knows that there is something going on with the beach water quality. Although the estuary receives water from numerous upstream sources, the primary source during normal/dry weather is the Ventura Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Last week the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) heard comments on a proposal to slowly phase out the discharge of treated sewage into the Santa Clara River estuary. The City of Ventura currently discharges over 8 million gallons a day, the last direct estuary discharge in the state. There is a lack of agreement on the effects of this, positive and negative. The Ventura County Star published a good summary of the issues.

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The aerial view on this map shows the existing treatment ponds that help clean the water before it flows into the estuary. In this image the sand berm at the beach is open and the river is flowing into the ocean.

One of the primary issues triggering the need to re-evaluate the discharge was the concentration of copper in the effluent. Copper is toxic to fish and wildlife, and originates from copper pipes in all the homes that flush into the sewer system. The discharge exceeded the toxicity limits for salt water species, many of which rely on estuary habitat for reproduction.
The RWQCB has also listed the 49 acre estuary for high levels of Coliform Bacteria, as well as agricultural chemicals. (Another new area of concern is the concentrations of pharmaceuticals in wastewater.) And although the city commissioned a study last year that highlighted the benefits of the discharge, this document did not mention the effects of nutrients, which can feed algae blooms which can lead to eutrophication (oxygen depletion in the water which can kill fish.)

Other impacts occur due to the unnatural volume of water that backs up in the estuary when the beach berm closes the rivermouth, which is most of the year. Apart from the fact that areas of McGrath State Beach flood as the water level rises, the stagnant nutrient-rich water tends to get fairly nasty before it flushes out when the berm breaches - directly onto the beach and into the lineup.

INTEGRATED SOLUTIONS: Oftentimes, solutions to a problem like this are considered in isolation from the broader regional issues. Although the city is planning to study the costs of an ocean outfall or moving the discharge point up the river, other alternatives may be possible. For instance, water conservation measures could reduce the volume of "waste" water arriving at the treatment plant. Considering that more than half of the "waste" has been used only once in a bathtub or shower, greywater systems would help reduce inflow at the plant, while also making better use of our limited water supply. (Landscaping irrigation uses a large percentage of the potable water supply.) Other integrated solutions may include strategically located "satellite" treatment plants that would provide reclaimed water to parks and other municipal facilities.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ventura River Steelhead

Despite the fact that 2007 was the driest year on record, biological surveys this summer revealed the presence of at least two large adult steelhead in the Ventura River. This species was listed as endangered in 1997 by NOAA Fisheries (NMFS), the federal agency charged with management of anadromous fisheries in the United States. (The steelhead run on the Ventura River is estimated to have numbered over 4,000 returning adults prior to the construction of Matilija Dam in 1948. )

The recently released NMFS Southern Steelhead Recovery Plan Outline describes the reasons for population decline. These include the alteration of natural stream flows, physical impediments to fish passage including dams and culverts, stream sedimentation, pollutant discharges into waterways, the spread of non-native species, and the loss of river estuary habitat. Priority actions for recovery include the removal of Matilija Dam and similar impediments to restore free passage to and from the headwaters. Apart from fish passage, perhaps the most important action is to restore natural stream flows.

THREATS: The presence of these two fish in the lower Ventura River is particularly significant as the City of Ventura seeks to increase its water supply to fuel projected growth. Currently approximately 2/3 of the city's water comes from the Ventura River, and there are two projects underway that would potentially increase this amount. 1) Foster Park Wells - upgrade of this facility would potentially double the pumping capacity to match the increased capacity at the Avenue Treatment Plant. 2) Ojai Sanitary Effluent Reuse - a study released this summer suggested that one half of the treated sewage currently discharged into the lower river could be reused, potentially providing an additional 1000 acre-feet per year. The same study noted that in dry years (like 2007) this effluent makes up 80% to 100% of the flow in the lower river.

Meanwhile, reports of fish kills have become common in recent years. This past summer, reports confirmed the deaths of 11 juvenile steelhead below the Robles Diversion Dam. A similar event was documented in March 2006 when a popular swimming hole dried up a short distance downstream of the diversion.
It is important to note, however, that there remains a population of resident native trout in the perennial creeks found in the upper watershed. This habitat was documented as part of the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study and may be found at the bottom of the reports page:

It's the little guys like this one that provide the potential for recovery of the species. Steelhead differ from salmon in that they do not have to become anadronmous. But some of the offspring from these resident native trout may decide to head for the ocean, and those that make it may return like the 22"-25" fish sighted by biologists this year.

Surfers' Point restoration

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November 30, 2007:

The Surfers' Point Working Group met to discuss the project status and schedule.

Project Description:
- Multi-Benefit Project to Relocate/ Remediate Damaged Public Park
- Restoration of Natural Processes/Shore Protection/Water Quality
- Enhance Coastal Access/Recreation/Education

The 70% Design is complete, with Final Design to be completed within 6 weeks (Feb 2008). An updated estimate now places total construction costs at $8.1M. Increases are result of general inflation in construction costs.

A significant portion of the cost is cobble to rebuild and protect the shoreline. A cobble source has been found from a County Flood Control project, but sorting and transportation is costly. A discussion identified approximately $1M in possible cost-cutting measures by leaving abandoned pipes in place, reducing landscaping costs, and limiting grass-pave to high use areas. General consensus was that these should be included in the final plans, although preference was to find full funding.

The coastal consultant is working on beach management plan, including “trigger points” for future renourishment as required by the Coastal Commission. The final MOU with Fairgrounds and City needs ratification.

Funding is going to be the big hurdle for this project. The City of Ventura has a federal transportation grant of $1.5M for the bike path that needs to be used in the next 2 years. Other grant applications have not been successful. The Ocean Protection Council OPC will be meeting in Ventura on February 28, and this will provide an opportunity for field tour of Surfers’ Point as well as Matilija Dam.

More information: