Friday, September 12, 2008

Local groups combine efforts to protect and restore the watershed

Our community is fortunate to have several very effective organizations whose combined efforts are making steady progress in watershed protection and restoration.

Thanks to Cynthia, we have this poster ready in time for our Surfrider Foundation booth at the Ventura Hillsides Festival this weekend. She calls it the "Grand Unification Theory" - this was born from my realization that every year this event brings together local organizations, but the big picture of hillsides preservation gets lost in the details... I hope this helps illustrate the connections between all of these important local initiatives.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fish monitoring on the Ventura River

I recently heard "When modern people think of the San Buenaventura River, they think of a mostly dry river that runs just to the west of the town of Ventura and empties into the ocean above the Ventura County Fairground and Surfer's Point." Even Kevin Costener, who grew up in Ventura, stated in a recent interview that "The river used to have salmon in it... and most people wouldn't even know it now... "

Until recently, nobody was really even looking for fish in the river. But as planning continues for the removal of Matilija Dam (now slated for 2014,) "baseline" information will become very important to demonstrate the response of the ecosystem to one of the largest dam removal projects ever considered.

Recognizing this, in 2006 and 2007 the CA Department of Fish and Game sponsored a fish survey conducted by consulting biologists Thomas Paine and Associates. (Two large adult steelhead were documented in the lower Ventura River last year.) This year, the Matilija Coalition applied for grants from DFG and Patagonia to augment funding from the previous years to ensure continued data collection in 2008.

Very little is actually known about the response of the endangered southern steelhead to the extreme variations in the southern California rivers from year to year. Characterized by the unpredictable 'boom and bust' cycles of flood and drought, our rivers seem inhospitable to this sensitive indicator species. Research into the annual variations and population densities is a timely topic, with dam removal and climate change right around the corner. And as our Stream Team data has demonstrated, the value of long term monitoring far outweighs just visiting the river once or twice.

Last week we went out to observe the biologists working in the field. Snorkel surveys are conducted by a group of trained biologists, who systematically swim upstream and count the number of trout in selected pools. The counts include age classification, separating this year's smolt from the yearlings and adults. In this single pool, the count averaged between 180 and 190 fish! Highlighting the dramatic annual variability, the same pool only held a handful of trout during last year's survey. Although these are not adult steelhead, some of these native rainbow trout may become anadromous and enter the ocean.

See if you can spot the trout in this video. Most of the smaller fish are chub and stickleback. It's great to see that despite all the stresses on the system, the river continues to support a substantial population of native fish.

(video courtesy of Brett Millar)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Surfers' Point on CNN

“SoCal News” did a great story on the Surfers' Point restoration project:

It is scheduled to air on CNN Headline News Sept. 12-14. “SoCal News” is one of three five-minute segments that rotate in a time slot at :24 and :54 after the hour on Headline News (channel 47) throughout Time Warner Cable’s Ventura County coverage area.

Here’s the link:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Integrated Watershed Planning Concept

I have been doing some research, trying to envision what an Integrated Water Management Plan might look like for the Ventura River bioregion. Combining water supply, wastewater, stormwater, and land use into one integrated plan is certainly not straightforward, but it is necessary. There is a clear need to cut through the multiple layers of jurisdiction and regulation, and an even greater need for education and awareness at every level. (I'm looking forward to the 'Watershed U' program) The good news is that this type of planning is being done elsewhere, so we don't have to completely forge a new path. I believe we have the resources and opportunity to accomplish this for the collective benefit of all interests in the watershed.

In the spirit of jump-starting the integrated planning process, I have put some ideas into a flow chart, shown here. The intent is to begin to outline some of the planning and implementation projects, including those that exist and are ongoing as well as some of the gaps. I know each agency has much to add, so I hope you will take a look at this and see where your programs could be added, or where things should be modified or moved around. (This is a 'straw-man' concept - send me your comments and I'll edit the chart)

Once the watershed council has a broad overview of how things fit together, the more detailed plans can be worked out. Then developing integrated solutions should come easily, and will solve multiple existing problems and ensure that money is spent wisely. We already have some huge things happening (i.e. Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration and others) and I believe we can build on this to draw more grant funding to implement a watershed plan.

My greatest concern is that without an integrated vision for where we need to go, money will be spent on redundant or outdated programs, large grant opportunities will be missed, and in the end the security, economy, and health of our community will be at risk.

Letter on Ventura Water Reclamation Special Studies

below is the text of a letter sent today to the City of Ventura:

RE: Ventura Water Reclamation Special Estuary Studies Work Plans

Thank you for providing an opportunity to review the work plans for the Santa Clara River Estuary special studies. We recognize that the Estuary Subwatershed Study, Treatment Wetlands Feasibility Study, and Recycled Water Studies are all conditions imposed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for continued discharge into the estuary until the impacts and alternatives are further analyzed. However, we are concerned that these individual studies will not point to the holistic solutions that we need.

For the past several years the Surfrider Foundation has been following the City of Ventura’s water planning processes. We are aware of the regulatory pressures upon the city from all directions: water supply, wastewater discharge, and stormwater discharge. In each instance, the City has been struggling to maintain the status quo, and provide for future growth. In the mean time, our rivers are drying up and choked with algae, our beaches and estuaries are in jeopardy, and we face increasing water shortages in the future.

As you know, we have also participated in the IRWMP regional water management process and the Ventura River Watershed Council. Unfortunately, these parallel efforts have yet to realize the potential for developing integrated solutions to solve these regulatory problems while providing a secure and sustainable future for city residents.

As we enter a period of significant uncertainty with climate change, peak oil, and population growth, it is imperative that we plan ahead. Increased drought and flooding, population growth, and sea level rise will all increase the pressure on our water resources. History has shown that significant capital expenditures intended to solve a single problem often lead to increased problems down the line. An extreme example is the potential for the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant to be rendered obsolete with future sea level rise – has anyone considered what happens then?

A quick ‘back of the envelope’ calculation reveals that the current wastewater discharge of 9 MGD into the Santa Clara River estuary represents more than 50% of the total city water supply. Therefore we are ‘wasting’ more than half of our water, while the remainder of our drinking water supply is poured onto lawns and parks. Surely we can do better. (See Cycle of Insanity)

We strongly encourage that the City of Ventura commission a study using grant funds to design a multidisciplinary and interdepartmental integrated water plan. Such a planning effort should aim to develop a vision for optimizing the city’s water use from all sources (i.e. water supply, stormwater, and wastewater.) Wherever possible, water should be captured and reused on site. Specific concepts may include:

Decentralized wastewater treatment to facilitate reclaimed water use
Biosolid/algae - wastewater to energy
Stormwater capture and reuse
“Green Streets” and LID retrofit of urban infrastructure
• “Ocean Friendly Gardens” and greywater to offset residential landscape irrigation

We recognize that these concepts are all big departures from the current reality, but it is clear that a new paradigm will be necessary for future sustainability.

We also acknowledge that these are all expensive propositions. Because this is a statewide (and global) crisis, the State Department of Water Resources (DWR) has earmarked funding for IRWMP planning efforts under Proposition 50 and Proposition 1E. Other grants are available for implementation. Multi-purpose projects may take advantage of several funding sources to achieve a cost effective approach to a sustainable future.

The City of Ventura should recognize that the seemingly unrelated issues of wastewater, stormwater, flood control, endangered species, energy, transportation, recreation, and overall quality of life present an opportunity to plan ahead and take advantage of state and federal incentives to modernize the aging infrastructure and solve all of these problems through integrated systems.

Attached is a conceptual planning approach that may help create the ‘roadmap’ needed to integrate water resources in the City’s area of influence, as well as within the broader watershed context.

Remember, failure to plan is planning to fail.