Friday, September 25, 2009

Pre-dawn sampling

For the past couple of years, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper has been studying the effects of algae on water quality within the Ventura River watershed. The general issue is outlined here - the main point being that dissolved oxygen drops to a minimum after a long night when algae and aquatic plants are not photosynthesizing...

Which is why we get up (way too early) to sample our monitoring sites before the sun comes up. This video illustrates how we do this in the dark:

Channelkeeper's Stream Team data is being utilized to develop a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) program to address the 303(d) algae impairment listing for the Ventura River. Working in collaboration with UCSB researchers, Channelkeeper has produced a number of reports, which may be downloaded from their website here.

If you'd like to get involved please contact Ben at

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Transportation funding for Surfers' Point?

CalTrans has yet to cite specific language that precludes the use of TE funding for the 'rehabilitation' portion of the Surfers Point bike path, and we are working diligently to try to re-instate the $1.5M grant that will make this project go...

I went back and looked at the requirements for TE funding, see below. The federal TE funding has provisions for "major rehabilitation" of shared-use paths such as the Omar Rains path at Surfers Point. There are many examples around the state where TE funding has been used for landscaping portion of a project, sometimes not even directly related to a bike path.

The Federal Government today is working to reform transportation practices to recognize multi-purpose projects (i.e. green infrastructure.) This project could be a showcase for intelligent use of federal and state funding in the public interest, and an opportunity for CalTrans to provide a leadership role... or not?

1. Provision of facilities for pedestrians and bicycles.

New or reconstructed sidewalks, walkways, or curb ramps; wide paved shoulders for nonmotorized use, bike lane striping, bike parking, and bus racks; construction or major rehabilitation of off-road shared use paths (nonmotorized transportation trails); trailside and trailhead facilities for shared use paths; bridges and underpasses for pedestrians and bicyclists and for trails.


Dublin Transit Center Streetscape Improvements - pedestrian improvements, landscape

Firebaugh Gateway Landscaping And Bike Trails- construct bike trails, landscaping, bike racks

Park Street Streetscape And Santa Clara Avenue Transit Hub- streetscapes, lighting, landscape, bike racks and lockers

Shaw Median Island Landscaping Project- landscape and irrigate median strip (in and near the City of Fresno, along Shaw Ave. between Highway 99 and Golden State Blvd.)

Redwood National Park Davison Trailhead - trailhead with information kiosks, parking, elk-viewing deck and revegitation (sic)

Main Street Walkway, Landscaping And Decorative Lighting In Kelseyville - walkways, landscaping and lighting (in Kelseyville, along Main St. from Gunn St. to Second St.)

Sespe Creek Bike Path - Phase II - grading, paving (bike path), fencing and landscaping

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Surfers' Point Funding in Jeopardy

The Surfers' Point project, scheduled to break ground this November, has come up against yet another hurdle. Caltrans has ruled that only a small portion of the $1.5M federal grant is eligible. Without full funding, the project is off!

We are requesting that Caltrans reconsider this decision based upon new information provided by the coastal engineers for the project - the new location of the bike path depends upon the reconstructed beach to survive future erosion from winter storms.

Please take the time to send a letter as a bicyclist and beachgoer to urge Caltrans staff to fully fund the federal grant:

Department of Transportation
John Haynes, Transportation Enhancement Coordinator
1120 N. Street, MS1
Sacramento, CA 95814

FAX number, 916-657-4455

Your letter should say something like the following:

I am writing to express our strong support for the City of Ventura’s proposal to use $1.5 million in Transportation Enhancement (TE) funds for the Surfers Point Bike Path Restoration project, including the erosion control needed to protect the path. The bike path at Surfers Point is part of the Omer Rains Coastal Bike Route and is one of the most heavily-used bike path segments. It is a significant Class I bicycle connection for our whole region. Unfortunately, sections of this bike path were washed out by coastal storms. The City of Ventura has worked over several years with the California Coastal Commission and numerous other parties, including the Ventura County Bicycle Coalition, to develop an innovative project to relocate the bike path away from the beach and provide erosion control to protect the path from future damage.

We understand that the City recently submitted to Caltrans technical information from its engineering consultant documenting the requirement of erosion control to protect this facility. We believe that federal regulations allow the use of TE funds for erosion control required to protect bicycle facilities in this matter. Unfortunately there is now very little time left to approve this project due to California Coastal permit restrictions that the work must be done during the fall and winter, so I respectfully request your assistance in assuring that full funding of the $1.5 million TE grant for this project, including the erosion control, can be approved quickly.


McGrath Lake cleanup?

Ever wonder why the water seems so nasty along the Oxnard beachbreaks?

An article in the Ventura County Star states "Landowners fear cost of cleaning up McGrath Lake."

...the state wants to clean the lake of DDT, PCBs and other pollutants. ...The proposed cleanup methods range from capping the shallow lake with dirt, which would cost $1.4 million, to dredging it of the polluted sediment, which could cost nearly $12 million."

This is potentially good news for those who surf the Oxnard beach breaks, as McGrath Lake is one of the toxic legacies that directly impact the surf zone. Agricultural runoff from the strawberry fields across the street are pumped into the 'lake,' where agritoxins are blended and overflow onto the beach. Longshore currents carry these toxins along the beach, usually downcoast except in south swells. The combination of McGrath Lake with Ventura wastewater and discharges from the Mandalay power plant create typically turbid (i.e. brown) water that is kept close to shore by breaking waves.

View Ventura River in a larger map

Although landowners are concerned that this order will be unaffordable, it is clear that the time has come to solve this problem. A public hearing is scheduled for October 1, at the City of Simi Valley Council Chambers, 2929 Tapo Canyon Road.

Consideration of proposed Basin Plan Amendment to incorporate a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for PCBs, Pesticides and Sediment Toxicity in McGrath Lake. (Comment submittal deadline was September 3, 2009) [Elisha Wakefield, (213) 576-6763]

More info: LA Regional Water Quality Control Board

In a revised notice released on September 24, 2009;
The Regional Board recognizes that cooperative parties will need to secure funding
from outside sources for in-lake sediment remediation and monitoring in order to
successfully implement the TMDL. The Regional Board supports the use of State
Board Cleanup and Abatement Account Funds to implement the TMDL and hereby
directs staff to begin working with cooperative parties to apply for Cleanup and
Abatement Account Funding.

McGrath Lake is a small, back dune lake located in coastal Ventura County.
Situated at the southern end of McGrath State Beach Park, the lake is south of
the McGrath State Beach Campground and west of Harbor Blvd. Much of the
adjacent area to the east is utilized for agricultural operations, such as
strawberries, celery and cut flowers. The dominant land use in the McGrath
watershed is agriculture, accounting for approximately 78% of the total land use.
McGrath Lake is located within the McGrath Lake sub-watershed, which is
approximately 1,700 acres and part of the larger Santa Clara River watershed.
Prior to agricultural development within the region, the lake and surrounding area
was part of the extensive wetland and floodplain complex of the Santa Clara
River Delta. Tile drains installed in the region allowed for extensive agricultural
operations and have greatly reduced the flooded soils and resulting wetlands. In
1958, Harbor Boulevard was built east of the park and lake, further disrupting the
hydrological inputs to McGrath Lake. The lake is a receiving water for tile drain
discharge, irrigation runoff, and stormwater from agricultural operations in the
sub-watershed. An artificial discharge of lake water to McGrath State Beach
occurs through the use of pumps to keep flooding of the fields east of Harbor
Blvd to a minimum.

Monday, September 21, 2009

City plans threaten aquifers

Today, while the 'Sustainability Council' was taking public comment on how to indefinitely continue the current growth rate in Ventura County, the City of Ventura was planning to certify another EIR to facilitate urbanization of some of the last agricultural lands within the city. A very telling letter from County water managers states, "We have reviewed the City's 2008 Biennial Water Supply Study (2008 Supply Report). We believe some of the assumptions may be flawed, and thus its predictions for future water supply may be overestimated."

I sent the following letter to city council:

It has come to our attention that the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency (FCGMA) has raised significant issues relating to the Saticoy & Wells Community Plan EIR. The FCGMA letter highlights key factors in the long-term sustainability of the city’s water supply. These issues are not adequately addressed in the EIR.

As outlined by FCGMA water managers, cumulative impacts from a drought will
(a) overdraft local aquifers causing saltwater intrusion, and (b) dry up the lower Ventura River, critical habitat for the endangered southern steelhead.

The city is mistakenly seeking additional water supplies from new wells at
Saticoy and Foster Park to provide for increased urban growth. The city is also mistaken in its bid to maintain the status quo at the wastewater treatment plant and delay modernization of outdated urban infrastructure such as storm drains, both of which could provide additional sources of water. Integrated Water Management should be a priority if the city wants to continue growth with these uncertain water supplies.

I urge you to ask the right questions, and be aware of the implications of today’s decision.

It is clear that the city is not even asking the right questions regarding our water supply, but rather fudging the numbers to continue down an unsustainable path that is certain to land us all in a world of drought...

UPDATE: Ventura City Council deferred certification of this EIR until the water issues are worked out. There were many speakers on the issue, including County Council representing the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency and managers of United Water District and others. City council candidate Camille Harris asked the question: "What is the projected population of the city when we run out of water." The answer is that there is no answer, but that the city's projections are good thru 2018 as certified by the 2005 General Plan.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Coastal Cleanup Day 2009

Jason and John, beach cleanup by the pier

Friday, September 18, 2009

Steelhead Recovery Plan

On Wednesday evening I was the guest speaker for the Sespe Flyfishers at their monthly meeting in Ventura. I presented photos and video of fish in the Ventura river, and a discussion of how water supply, water quality, flood control, land use, fishing, etc affect this endangered species.

The bottom line - there is good news and bad news - we are seeing lots of fish in the river, but we also lost a lot this year. Much of the presentation was information taken from this blog, click on 'steelhead' from the label cloud...

My presentation illustrated many issues in the watershed through photos and news clippings. Most of these problems are included in the Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan, now available on the NOAA website here.

Because of their life cycle, which includes time in both fresh and salt water environments, the steelhead may be seen as an indicator species for how we manage our watersheds and coastal resources. Throughout the region, similar issues threaten the survival and recovery of this species. In general these may be summarized as:

  • DEVELOPMENT: urbanization, dewatering and channelization of rivers and creeks
  • DAMS: spawning and rearing habitat of the major river systems has been rendered inaccessible as a result of dams, debris basins, road crossings, and other in-stream structures
  • FLOOD CONTROL: Development of the floodplains has altered the natural fluvial processes which facilitate migration and in some cases sustain over-summering habitat for juvenile steelhead. Associated flood control structures and activities
  • LAND USE: erosion and sedimentation of river and stream channels, and remaining estuarine habitat.
  • NON-NATIVE invasive plants and aquatic species also has further degraded habitats for steelhead, particularly rearing juveniles
  • ESTUARY LOSS: lost approximately 90% of its pre-historic estuarine habitat through dredging and filling. The degradation of remaining estuarine habitat as a result of both point and non-point sources of pollution and artificial breaching of sand-bars
  • FISHING: Introduction of exotic fish, and the stocking of non-native steelhead fish stocks to support recreational fishing have in many coastal rivers and streams also contributed to the decline of native steelhead and related resident trout

The Ventura River is identified as one of the primary core populations and recovery priorities for the southern steelhead. Specific actions for the Ventura River include removal of Matilija Dam and modification of flows.

The public comment period for the Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan has been extended to *November 19, 2009*.

New Solution for Dam Removal?

Matilija Dam Design Oversight Group (DOG) Meeting
Wednesday September 18, 2009

The Design Oversight Group meeting was well attended with representatives from local, state, and federal agencies as well as several local residents and interests. The primary topic of discussion was how to reduce the escalating costs of the project and re-energize the efforts to remove this obsolete dam. Project managers presented a new proposal that may provide a solution to the problem of managing the fine sediments trapped behind Matilija Dam.


The idea of using a dredge and slurry pipeline with large downstream disposal areas for the fine sediments has always been the most complex and controversial part of the Matilija Dam project. The pie chart below shows the relative cost of each part of the project based on the 2004 feasibility study:

Note that apart from engineering and management, the slurry has always been the most costly part of the project. The addition of a thickener process increased the slurry costs from $20M to $30M - $50 million. This component has seen a proportionally greater increase, so the estimated cost of slurry disposal is approaching 25% of the total cost.


After summarizing some of the issues with the two downstream disposal strategies (MODA and BRDA), project managers presented a new alternative for consideration. The "Upstream Storage" option would deposit the fines upstream of the dam within the storage sites previously identified within the reservoir area.

Although the discussion focused mainly on permanent disposal of the fine sediments, design considerations for upstream sediment management should include incorporating the fine sediments into the overall sediment management strategy and the re-contouring/revegetation/stabilization of sediments upstream of the dam. Of primary concern is the downstream water diversion at Robles. Other concerns include passage and habitat for the endangered steelhead, sediment transport downstream to the beaches, as well as the long-term disposition of the property in Matilija canyon.


Cost: If this approach is feasible it could potentially save more than 20% of project costs.

Impacts: The footprint of the project remains within the reservoir area, eliminating the impacts from downstream sediment disposal, slurry lines, etc.


An article in the Ojai Valley News titled "Solution Sought for Dam Removal" includes followup perspective from local project managers and the Casitas Water District.

And Jenkin said this week that the behind-the-dam storage alternative could be workable, as long as the government does not insist that the silt be stored and capped in a way that does not jibe with the primary goal of removing the dam and returning the river valley to its natural state.

“If this is done right, there may be something to it,” Jenkin said in an e-mail to the Ojai Valley News. “If it’s mixed in and ‘stabilized’ without concreting the canyon, episodic release of fines (silt) may be tolerable for Casitas.”

But the county’s Pratt said that the new analysis will be looking only at permanently capping the silt with rock after it is spread on about 30 acres in the reservoir area. The analysis will not consider allowing the silt to erode because of possible dire consequences for the Casitas water agency, he said.


The Feasibility Study and subsequent documents are available at


A recent study done in preparation for the removal of Klamath Dams that suggested fine sediments would have a temporary effect on the river/fish:

The documentation for the recent removal of Marmot Dam shows that the river is now flowing clearer after dam removal than with the dam in place.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blue Whales and ships in the SB Channel

A recently released National Geographic film, Kingdom of the Blue Whale, documents the study of these whales in the Santa Barbara Channel and the successful research that led to the discovery of their breeding and calving waters off the coast of Costa Rica. (Also available on Netflix) It also included film and discussion of the whales that washed ashore here almost exactly two years ago.

This weekend I took out-of-town guests on an Island Packers trip to Anacapa Island, 9 miles off the coast of Oxnard. We had the incredible good fortune of seeing a pod of perhaps a dozen blue whales, including at least one mother and calf that were closest to the boat. Our guide said it is rare to see such a concentration in the southern channel.

We expected to see them on the way back, an hour later, but nothing to be seen... The captain said he thought it was because four tanker/container ships had passed through the channel in that hour, and the whales had probably sounded (dived deep) and moved on...

I asked him if they had had any ship strikes since the incidents a couple of years ago, and he didn't seem to think there had been any. At the time there was much speculation that Low Frequency Sonar operated by the navy led to the death of these whales. Seeing how sensitive they are to the presence of large ships and quick they are to move away certainly makes that case...

This Friday the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council will review and hopefully adopt recommendations to reduce the threat of ship strikes on large cetacenas in the Santa Barbara Channel. The subcommittee has been working for over a year to develop a report & recommendations on this topic.

A ship strike plan for the sanctuary should include independent monitoring for sonar activity to detect its use in the Sanctuary.

Sanctuary Advisory Council Meeting
Friday, September 18, 2009 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Casa Las Palmas
323 E. Cabrillo Blvd · Santa Barbara, CA

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ventura Hill-Fest

Sunday Sept. 6: Arroyo Verde Park

The Ventura Hillside Music Festival has become THE annual community event. And the weather and music lineup made this year's event as good as ever.

Whether most of the crowd realizes it or not, preserving the remaining open space in our watershed is the most critical issue before us... See "Aligning Land Use and Water Quality"

Thanks to all the volunteers who put their heart and soul into this event every year!

Support your local land conservancy.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Presentations at City Hall

Two presentations at City Hall in the past week:

  1. CLU Riverbottom Cleanup Orientation
  2. City of Ventura Engineering Dept.
The City of Ventura has partnered with California Lutheran University to clean up the riverbottom near downtown. On Monday they removed over 7 TONS of trash - all of which was destined for the beaches in the next flood.

I was asked to give some environmental perspective at the group's orientation last week. I gave my quick overview of the watershed, and the projects that Surfrider has been working on. I finished by showing the Watershed Revolution trailer.

Then yesterday afternoon I was privileged to show Watershed Revolution to the Engineering Department. Rich Reid was there to provide insight form the producer. Although strictly a non-technical presentation, it was followed by a short discussion about water management.

I mentioned my 'low-tech' greywater system (5 gallon buckets to haul the bathwater out to the garden.) Every gallon of 'grey water' that goes into the garden is a gallon that does not have to be pumped out of the river, PLUS a gallon that does not get mingled with sewage for treatment at the wastewater plant.

Now that greywater is LEGAL, there's an opportunity to make this happen. Imagine if greywater were implemented citywide and washing machines and bathtubs watered the garden instead of drinking water? That's a tangible opportunity to save a lot of energy (and water,) take the pressure off the treatment plant, and preserve flows in the river...