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.

View Larger Map

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.

View Larger Map

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

View Larger Map

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:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Las Virgenes Creek Restoration

Solving the urban runoff problem:

Undoing the damage caused by concrete "flood control" engineering is no easy task, but the City of Calabasas is doing just that. Driven by a mandate from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to solve an algae problem, and prioritized through watershed and regional planning, this project will provide significant benefits in restoring the natural function of this creek in the Malibu Creek watershed.

The vision for the project is illustrated by the images below. Visit the photo gallery for more.

It is encouraging to see our neighbors in Los Angeles County implementing such a bold vision! Where is the leadership in Ventura County?

Also see story here:

Keynote Speech - Ventura College GIS Day

Friday November 16: Ventura College Annual GIS Conference , a part of World GIS Day. (GIS means Geographic Information System, used to create maps and geographic databases.)

This year the college selected "The Monkey Wrench Gang" as required reading... then invited the local dam decommissioning advocate to speak... ?

This presentation provided an overview of Ecosystem Based Management for the Ventura River bioregion, and incorporated many GIS maps that illustrate the use of the technology to advance the understanding of ecosystem processes.

As a bonus, the Ventura Chapter's GIS guru (and new board member) Cynthia Hartley won First Place in the conference Poster Session with the Ocean Friendly Gardens map that she created of the Ventura urban watershed!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ventura's Green Initiative

Long way to green

Ventura's Green Initiative is a great step in the right direction and I think one that most citizens of Ventura support. It is clear that being "green" is becoming a popular trend, and I applaud the city for taking a step in this direction.

But becoming a truly "green" city will take much more than recycling or going solar. We need to begin planning for the future, to update our aging infrastructure to mitigate the environmental impacts of our city. Nowhere is this more evident than how we manage and use water.

The city faces pressure on all fronts — water supply, wastewater and storm water. For example, the Ventura River faces increased pressure from overextraction of water, our wastewater treatment plant is the last estuary discharge in the state and our beaches have been listed as impaired by trash and bacteria.

Creative solutions exist to integrate these municipal responsibilities for a sustainable future. The Surfrider Foundation requests that the city implement a meaningful public dialogue in order to generate new ideas and promote partnerships. We need to formulate a "sustainability plan" to provide the road map to where we need to go, to ensure that we do not miss opportunities as redevelopment occurs. And although implementing such a plan will take decades, state and federal grants are available now for water-related projects, and opportunities exist to begin the urban-renewal process now.

We look forward to working as a community for a sustainable future.

Paul Jenkin, Ventura (The writer is with the Ventura County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. — Editor)

venturacountystar 2007/nov/14/ letters

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Growing the Beaches

On March 30, 2000, the Patagonia/Great Pacific Iron Works store in Ventura was packed with over 200 people for the debut of "Growing the Beaches". At the front of the room sat local political figures and government reps, behind them surfers, local residents, beachgoers, friends and family.

This is now vintage grass-roots...

"Growing the Beaches" was created after I met Robin Chilton, aspiring videographer and surfer, who shared a passion for telling the story. I wanted to convert my "road show," which at the time consisted of an 80-slide tray and projector with my photos and some pieced-together graphics, into a video that could do the work for me... The production was an epic week of sleepless nights and dawn patrols, catching footage of the years best swell but missing a surf, interviews scheduled and scripted, a learning experience... that tells the story.

Sponsored by Patagonia, augmented with lots of volunteer hours, the beginning...

Matilija Dam project authorized by congress

This week the Water Resources Development Act bill, (WRDA), was approved by congress. It's been three years since the Feasibility Study's completion in 2004, and it took an override of the president's veto, but the plan to remove Matilija Dam is now official. There's still a lot of work to do, and it's going to take over $140 million, but project authorization through WRDA is a major milestone toward the restoration of the Ventura River, beginning with the removal of this obsolete dam.

This video illustrates the vision for the future...

To lean more about the dam removal plan, download the Matilija Messenger 7 newsletter here

and see this

Technical References:

Recent press:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Emma Wood Beach - Agricultural Runoff

Taylor Ranch runoff results in sediment plume and coastal impacts

Recent expansion of agricultural operations on Taylor Ranch, just north of the Ventura River, resulted in significant impacts to the coast. For several weeks in October, runoff from the large field above Highway 101 discharged through a storm drain onto Emma Wood State Beach. The beach was covered in mud several inches thick, and a plume was visible in the ocean extending downcoast through Surfers Point.

Local kiteboarders took these photos on 10/21/07 and sent them to authorities. If you see continuing problems, please take photos and document the impacts - we'll continue to pass the information on to regulators.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Aussie dam tour

Oct 8, 2007

Surfrider Australia representatives Stuart Ball and Chris Tola took an afternoon to visit Matilija Dam during their recent visit to the US. Since the surf was flat, our mates from Down Under enjoyed the 'full immersion' watershed experience.

Monday, October 8, 2007

City of Ventura Community Partner

The City's annual report includes an update on progress toward "Achieving the Vision"

Our Natural Community

We've expanded "green practices" citywide to make Ventura a model for a sustainable planet.

Community Partner

Paul Jenkn"For the past decade, the Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has been working with local and state government agencies to solve beach erosion and water quality problems at Ventura County's most popular coastal recreation area - Surfers' Point."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Urban Runoff - Ocean Friendly Gardens

If you have visited the Surfrider "road show" at recent events you may have seen the poster below. We are beginning to map the Ventura urban watershed to illustrate the causes of urban runoff, as well as potential solutions.

Many cities around the country are now planning and implementing "green infrastructure", which integrates flood control with water supply, parks, bikeways and more. This is a necessary response to climate change, as we may experience longer droughts and greater flooding in the future. Greening our community has the added benefit of making cities more walkable and bikable, while the added green space absorbs carbon emissions.
What can you do?
The Surfrider Foundation is launching a new program called Ocean Friendly Gardens. This is intended to educate residents about the urban runoff problem and demonstrate how we can conserve water and retain and infiltrate storm water on our own property. Lot by lot, we can re-landscape our communities.

Arundo Eradication in Matilija Canyon

The first step in the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration project has begun with the Arundo eradication program. Work will begin in Matilija Canyon, starting in the reservoir area above the dam, and will utilize foliar spraying of herbicide. The intent is to move to the headwaters and "get" all the Arundo in Matilija Creek before moving downstream as far as the Highway 150 bridge. Over 200 acres of this weed have been identified in the watershed.

Although just about everyone recognizes there is some negative impact of herbicide application, the long term goals are to save water, reduce flooding and fire hazards, and restore the native habitat. The eradication program will use "BMP's" (Best Management Practices) intended to minimize overspray and water contact. The Matilija Coalition and Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper played an active role in ensuring these BMP's were included in the plan.

For the remainder of the year, Stream Team water monitoring in Matilija Creek and downstream will include sampling for "glyphosate," the active ingredient in Rodeo, a version of Roundup herbicide approved for use near water. We hope our samples come up negative, but if herbicide is detected in the river the operations will be modified and carefully monitored.

For more information on the eradication plan and water quality monitoring see
For the Matilija Coalition 2001 Field Survey see

Cooincidentally, "High Country News" has an article about weed control that is relevant to the situation in the Ventura River -

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blue whale buried on beach

Last weekend a blue whale washed ashore near Hobson County Beach up the coast from Ventura. It attracted crowds of onlookers as scientists dissected the 70 foot carcass. (Necropsy determined that the whale was hit and killed by a ship large enough to crush its huge bones.)

Because it was close to the campground, and perhaps due to the lack of beach in front of the seawalls, the remains were towed 2 miles down the coast and buried in 4 feet of sand, just upcoast of Faria Beach.

Whale blubber and the strong odor of rotting flesh were evident in the surf zone as far downcoast as Surfers' Point on Sunday, during the C-St Longboard Contest and Aloha Beach Festival. This week portions of the whale were exposed by wave action, and downcoast impacts continued. Past experience in southern California has shown that white sharks will be attracted to the coastal zone, potentially creating an increased risk of shark attacks.

There have been record numbers of blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel this year, and apparently there is another dead whale floating toward the coast. Concerned citizens are petitioning authorities to determine appropriate protocol and not repeat this in the future.

It is interesting to think that in the past, marine mammals provided carrion for the California Condor, now an endangered species. These huge birds would fly along the coast and feed upon beached seals, dolphins, and whales. Indeed, this ecosystem once supported coyotes, bears, vultures, and a full spectrum of life. However, with the construction of a freeway and residences on the beach, this biodiversity has been lost. Increased population and conflicting human interests turn a beached mammal of this scale into a significant management issue. (Just be glad the authorities did not decide to do this!)

As illustrated by this case, the loss of natural ecosystem processes generate complicated public policy questions. Other examples include dams and flood control structures designed for a single purpose, but with unforseen side effects. There is now consensus that Matilija Dam should be decommissioned to begin to restore watershed function. And with pending new regulations, discussion has begun relating to impacts of urbanization to the health of the coastal ecosystem.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Testimony to BOS on Stormwater Permit

September 11, 2007 Comments to Ventura County Board of Supervisors

RE: Study Session to Discuss Implications from Future Stormwater and Total Maximum Daily Load Requirements on Ventura County

My name is Paul Jenkin and I represent the Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. My comments today are on behalf of the approximately 1000 members in the county, and all the other thousands of residents and visitors that use our county’s beaches.

Since 1991, our members have participated in volunteer programs such as the “Blue Water Task Force,” “Stream Team,” and storm drain stenciling. This participation is largely because many people get sick every year from surfing or swimming at our county’s beaches.

Recent reports such as from the Joint Oceans Commission led to the California Ocean Plan, West Coast Governors Agreement, and other initiatives that have identified Urban Runoff as a significant threat to the health of our oceans. All of these agree that a new approach is required to solve this problem, with recommendations to implement what is now known as “Ecosystem Based Management.”

The root cause of this problem is traditional urban infrastructure. Our society has implemented a conveyance approach to flood control, resulting in impervious urban areas and hydromodification of our watersheds. It is clear that this approach is not working, with concrete leading to more concrete, and as you heard from some of the cities today, their flooding problems are getting worse. This is because stormwater has been treated as a threat, rather than the resource that it should be.

Quite frankly I am disappointed by the resistance to regulation that I am hearing today. The stormwater permit has been around for over a decade, but nothing has changed. So called “environmental groups” like Surfrider comment on individual projects one at a time, but the CEQA process does not adequately account for cumulative impacts.

Major changes are needed. But this permit may be seen as a threat to traditional flood control and the development permit process. Regional planning is desperately needed on a watershed basis, rather than the current piecemeal permitting of development.

In addition, major retrofitting is needed to the existing infrastructure in order to implement what I call “reverse hydromodification.” The solution to urban runoff lies in integrated solutions and what is known as “green infrastructure.” This approach should integrate flood control with water supply, parks, bikeways, and more. This is a necessary response to climate change as we experience longer droughts and greater flooding in the future.

As others have said today, pollution is waste, and we are wasting our stormwater, and in the process polluting our oceans.

On a positive note, the Surfrider Foundation is launching a new program called “Ocean Friendly Gardens.” This is intended to educate residents about the urban runoff problem, and demonstrate how they can re-landscape their own property to retain and infiltrate stormwater.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment today.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Ventura River

Last week I spent a day working with local photographer Rich Reid on a video project about the watershed. We visited several people working to protect and restore the Ventura River ecosystem:

see also:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coho Confab and Steelhead Pilgrimage: Part 3

Steelhead fishing

I awoke to the sound of the coffee grinder. Still dark. Where's my stuff? Where's the door?
Packed a lunch and we're off. Through the fog and darkness, as the caffein kicked in the stories began to flow. "Over here there's a hole, up there has been hammered, all wilderness up that drainage, etc etc"

We pulled up on a bluff overlooking the river shortly after sunrise. A mist hung along the forested slopes, not a soul around. We grabbed our gear and set off down the hill. "Poison oak." "Watch the toads." "A bear was here." "Deer tracks."

We tied on our lures, and started fishing. Easy enough, cast, sink, retrieve, work that riffle, ready for action. Then, "whoa!" "Got something here!"

A steelhead! Like an excited kid I landed the fish and posed for the trophy photo. This is a hatchery steelhead, identifiable by the clipped "adipose" fin on the spine. Hatchery fish are legal for harvest, so this one was destined to return home with me.

We fished for another hour, without luck, and then hiked back up the hill. After buying some ice to keep my souvenir fresh, we drove upstream. The river here is wild and free-flowing, with large meanders, pools, and riffles.

Driving onward, we parked at a well used pullout and gathered our gear. "Bring the snorkeling stuff this time."
Hiking down a steep trail, we gained glimpses of the river below. We arrived at a large, deep pool, which looked promising. Over the next hour, many fish rose to the surface, lures were cast, but nothing. We hiked down to another pool, same results.

"OK. Let's see what we missed."

"Yea, right," I thought, "there's no fish in here."

We donned our mask and snorkel, and slipped into the surprisingly warm water. As I expected, nothing, just cool clear water and a deep pool next to the cliffs. Then, as I led the way through the tail end of the pool, several schools of a dozen or more steelhead flashed past me. "You see that?" "Yahoo!"

I have been diving in the ocean for 30 years, but until this I had never even considered using a mask in a river. This was a whole new world!

But the best was yet to come. We dropped into the rapidly flowing river below the first pool, getting whisked downstream in the flow. Several more steelhead flashed past, spooked from their resting place in an eddy. As we entered the lower pool, I dived down deep into clean, clear water about 25 feet deep. As I reached the bottom, still rushing along in the current, another school of steelhead, then a school of silver Chinook, unmistakably different even to a neophyte. Wow! One was way bigger than the rest, perhaps a 40 or 50 pounder. Look what we missed!

We returned to town with only one fish to show for our efforts. But as I thought about it, that steelhead was truly a gift from the river. And it made my trip all worthwhile.

Many thanks to the people who made this possible!

(These stories are true, but places and names remained anonymous to protect the innocent)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Coho Confab and Steelhead Pilgrimage: Part 2

Fishing the Klamath

It was fitting that as part of my introduction to the salmon rivers of northern California, I was destined to visit the Klamath River. The Klamath is notorious for the devastating fish kill of 2002, when over 30,000 adult Chinook salmon fell victim to upstream water diversions.

At first light we took a small drift boat to the mouth of what was once the third most productive salmon river in the nation.

Here, native Americans have permits to fish the estuary using gillnets. The scene reminded me of the local fishermen I have observed in Baja California. It's good to see there was still some commercial catch available to the local tribes.

After a couple of hours trolling, it was clear the fish were not interested in our shiny metal lures, so we took the boat upstream. Here we rowed upriver for an hour, walking and casting along the bank for the final half mile or so. Bear tracks on the riverbank served as a reminder of the relatively wild ecosystem, and there was "Large Woody Debris" of a scale not found in Southern California.

"Pop!" The sound echoing up the river had us running for the boat. Lunch was served, with a nice bottle of wine. Top notch guide service!

Algae has been a topic of interest since we started monitoring on the Ventura River. Here on the Klamath algae is largely the result of the upstream dams. In a complex reaction that highlights a delicate cause and effect balance, the dams heat the water and accumulate nutrients from farming. The release of this toxic soup downstream dramatically alters the ecosystem.

This photo shows typical algae growth in the lower Klamath River. As the sun came out in the afternoon, we measured water temperatures over 71F and levels of dissolved oxygen over 9 mg/l, a recipe for stress later in the evening when the plants cease photosynthesis.

As luck would have it, the fish were not biting upstream either. Whether this was due to warm water, or the earliness of the season does not matter. We had a good laugh, and drove back to the boat ramp where the locals were unloading the day's catch. As it was my duty to bring home some fresh fish, I happily bought a "seal bit" chinook, fresh from the nets, for a more than reasonable discount. (should have bought two!)

... continued (Part 3 "Steelhead Pilgrimage")

Friday, August 24, 2007

Coho Confab and Steelhead Pilgrimage

"Come up to the north coast sometime and we'll catch a steelhead." This offer was made at a fisheries conference a couple of years ago when I mentioned that I had spent 15 years on steelhead restoration, but never had a chance to fish for them, as they are now endangered in Southern California.

When I learned of the "Coho Confab" to be held on the Mattole watershed in Humboldt County on Aug 17-19, the lure of steelhead was in the back of my mind. So last weekend I made the long drive up north to attend the conference, with a couple of days on the tail end reserved for fishing.

In many respects, the Mattole is where it all began. Much has been written about the struggle of the Headwaters Forest and plight of the salmon in this watershed. This is where Julia Butterfly made global headlines with her epic tree sit. And where 30 years of restoration has made marginal gains in an ecosystem fatally damaged by clear-cut logging. It was a place I had heard so much about, and this was an opportunity to learn from those who had been doing the work for half their lives.

This photo shows local leaders describing the history and future of restoration efforts in the Mattole. The poster shows the extent of logging, where over 90% of the watershed has been cut. (see )

The loss of the old growth resulted in severe soil erosion throughout the 300 sq mile watershed, which in turn led to dramatic changes in the river and tributary creeks. Fine silt and sand has filled in the pools which once produced an endless bounty of Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead. Cold water that once flowed out of the deep shade of the redwood forest has diminished, leaving just a warm trickle.

In 1978, residents within the Mattole River basin began proactive restoration efforts aimed at increasing salmon numbers. It quickly became apparent, however, that salmon do not live just in streams, they live in watersheds. In order to save the native salmon runs, residents began to consider how to care for the whole system. Early work included salmon rescue and evolved into reforestation. This led to the formation of the Mattole Watershed Salmon Support Group (MWSSG) in 1980. Slowly an industry was formed around the restoration activities, and money was raised to plant trees, raise salmon, and educate the community.

So it was appropriate that the Coho Confab returned to the origins of the restoration movement. The Coho Confab is a symposium to explore watershed restoration, learn restoration techniques to recover coho salmon populations, and to network with other fish-centric people. According to conference sponsor Salmonid Restoration Federation, 'To confabulate literally means to informally chat or to fabricate to compensate for gaps in ones memory.'

Over the weekend, a series of field tours were conducted with visits to restoration sites and hands-on workshops to fast-track the learning experience. During one such tour we visited this example of an innovative bank stabilization project, quite different from the concrete structures that we live with in SoCal. Look closely and you can see that each rock is cabled to the next using a drill and epoxy. Also notice the shade, and the vegetation emerging between the rocks. This structure has endured flows over 40,000 cfs, equivalent to a large flood on the Ventura River.

One of the benefits of this project is the deep scour pool formed under the log. Sedimentation has made deep pools like this rare in the lower river. Projects that help protect the streambank, as well as create deep pools and riparian cover, are seen as one strategy to increase rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids.

We returned to this same site in the afternoon for the "Tails of a Hidden World" workshop. Donning our wetuits and snorkling gear, we swam with an estimated 1,000 steelhead smolt, with a few chinook smolt in the mix.

It is important to note that the Mattole Restoration Council recognized early on that restoring a watershed meant much more than instream structures and salmon. Building a community around the restoration ethic has been central to the effort. And building community was all about gathering to share experiences and have fun.

On Saturday night, Confab participants were treated to this aspect of the Mattole culture. The "Local Talent Cabaret" included singers and poetry and story telling. The local talent also demonstrated how comedy can be used to convey a message. This skit pitted a small salmon in a fishbowl of water against a thirsty marijuana plant. In the end the plant's insatiable thirst won, as she drank the fishbowl dry. (Marijuana cultivation has been identified as a critical issue for instream habitat, as growers in the headwaters often pump a creek dry.)

Since its inception, the Mattole Restoration Council (MRC) has been at the forefront of community based watershed restoration. The activities of the MRC have been featured in numerous articles, books, and videos on ecological restoration, both locally and internationally. The story of the Mattole restoration movement is known as the first community-based restoration effort in the state of California. Much more may be found at

... to be continued

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

City of Ventura Studies Wastewater Reuse

Seems the City of Ventura's study to reuse Ojai Sanitary effluent raised concerns from a variety of stakeholders. At issue is the fact that during dry months most of the water in the lower river is effluent, and the study suggests that only taking half of this would not have any impacts to the ecosystem. Comments from NMFS, Santa Barabara ChannelKeeper, Surfrider Foundation ,and Ojai Sanitary themselves suggests this is not a simple matter. See below for our comment letter on this:

City's recycled water proposal is criticized

By Zeke Barlow
Saturday, August 11, 2007

Usually, environmentalists cheer proposals to conserve drinking water.

But an idea the city of Ventura is examining to use treated sewage water from the Ventura River has some worried the move aiming to help the environment could hurt it.

"Normally, the idea of recycling water is really a good one," said Russ Baggerly, director of the Ojai Valley Sanitation District. "In this instance, I don't think it's a good idea."

The city is considering replacing drinkable water it sells to oil companies with treated sewage water, which comes out of the Ojai Valley sewer plant and flows down the Ventura River.

The plan, which is in the early exploratory stage, calls for about half ­ or 1,000 acre-feet ­ of the water the sewer plant puts into the river to be diverted to oil companies. The companies currently use treated, drinkable water to force oil out of the earth.

Karen Waln, a management analyst with Ventura, said the city is always looking for ways to use recycled water instead of potable water to cut costs and help the environment. The city spent $75,000 on the recently released draft plan; the state, which encourages recycled water projects, gave another $75,000.

"It's a lot more acceptable to use reclaimed water than treated," Waln said.

But Baggerly said he believes taking that much water out of the river could hurt its ecological balance, potentially disturbing the federally endangered steelhead trout.

Much has been done to try to re-establish the fish in the river, including building a $9 million fish ladder that allows them to swim around the Robles Diversion, which sends water to Lake Casitas. Baggerly is also the chairman of the Casitas Municipal Water District Board of Directors, which paid for the ladder.

"We already spent millions of dollars to try to rehabilitate the habitat in the Ventura River," he said. "Now we are thinking about taking more than half of that water away?"

But Waln pointed to the draft report, which says the effects of taking that water can be mitigated and likely won't have an adverse effect.

Ultimately, the city could move forward even if the sanitation district opposes the project. It owns the water that comes out of the sewage plant and leases the property to the district.

Letter from Surfrider Foundation:

July 31, 2007

Karen Waln
City of Ventura
501 Poli Street
Ventura, CA 93002

Re: Ojai Valley Sanitary District (OVSD) Effluent Reuse Feasibility Study

Dear Ms. Waln,

On behalf of the Matilija Coalition, I have reviewed the Ojai Valley Sanitary District (OVSD) Effluent Reuse Feasibility Study and have the following comments.

We commend the City of Ventura for seeking alternative water strategies to optimize beneficial use of our limited water supplies. Replacing the current use of potable water for oil reclamation with reclaimed water has merit. However, we cannot support the reuse of Ojai Sanitary effluent as currently proposed in the feasibility study.

The lower Ventura River is currently dependent upon the OVSD effluent for in-stream habitat benefits during the dry summer months. According to the study (p7):

Accounting for the proposed 1000 acre-ft/year reduction in effluent discharge, produces a flow-duration curve that suggests that no flow would reach the mouth of the estuary approximately 25-percent of the time when water rights are being implemented in full.

We are concerned that the proposal to remove up to 50% of the flow from the lower river will have an adverse impact on the ecosystem. Indeed, improvements to the wastewater treatment system were funded with the understanding that the enhanced effluent would provide for sensitive in-stream habitat. Although there may be some water quality benefits from the proposal, any scheme to reuse this effluent should include assurances that there is no net loss of in-stream flow.

We recommend that opportunities for water reuse and conservation be developed within a watershed context. A comprehensive multi-agency water supply and demand budget should be conducted for the entire watershed in order to identify areas where such strategies may be best applied for the greatest overall ecosystem benefits.


Paul Jenkin
Coordinator, Matilija Coalition
Environmental Director, Surfrider Foundation - Ventura County Chapter
(805) 648-4005

Monday, August 13, 2007

Presentation to California Ag Leadership Program

California Ag Leadership Program

Presentation on the Matilija Dam removal

Thursday, August 9 at the United Water Conservation District office in Santa Paula

"California Ag Leadership Program organizes an annual DC Exchange Program where policy makers from Washington are toured for a week in California agriculture and exposed to regional issues. Of the 20 persons selected by Alumni interviews in Washington there are included A Senior Scientist and Technology Manager of Interior's U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Other Interior, USDA, EPA and Congressional appropriations staff."

I was privileged to make a 20 minute presentation on the Matilija Dam removal. Other presenters spoke about United and the Freeman Diversion, the chloride contamination of the Santa Clara River and the Ag Waiver non-point source runoff regulations.

Upon request, I am sending an information packet including my powerpoint presentation, videos, and newsletters to a staff member U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Cobble Mining

Ventura River Cobble Mining

May 20, 2007 – Matilija Creek – near Stream Team Site 15 – Cobble mining is common along Matilija Creek and the Ventura River, driven by a local market for landscaping and walls. (Bureau of Reclamation noted areas devoid of cobble-sized sediments during surveys for Matilija Dam Feasibility Study.)

Matilija Canyon Road Grading

Matilija Canyon Road Grading

July 31, 2007 - Matilija Creek below Matilija Dam – Recent grading of shoulder along Matilija Canyon Road, downstream of Stream Team Site 13. Vegetation and sediment pushed over edge of road. New wide shoulder creates opportunity for parking and dumping.