Thursday, April 28, 2011

San Antonio Creek Spreading Grounds

On Tuesday April 26, the Ventura County board of Supervisors approved the environmental document for the San Antonio Creek Spreading Grounds project.

Although the project has broad support from the water agencies, the resource agencies (NOAA and DFG) have filed letters on the project. NOAA filed a protest to the State Water Board.

At issue is whether appropriation of surface water will affect endangered steelhead and it's habitat. The final MND environmental document includes these graphs that illustrate the quantity of water that will be diverted into the spreading basins for infiltration and injection into the groundwater basin.

During the hearing it was stated that the project was designed so that diversion flows comply with downstream needs, based upon comments from DFG and the City of Ventura. Quoting the MND;

Surface flow diversion would be a passive system, designed such that water levels
at the intake structure would dictate the timing and amount of the diversion. Therefore, the volume of water diverted would increase as the water level in the creek rises, and decrease as water levels decline. Table 1 provides proposed surface water diversion rates based on the design of the system and placement of the intake structure in San Antonio Creek. Surface flow in San Antonio Creek would need to be 150 cfs for the proposed facility to operate at capacity (25 cfs). A graph of the designed relationship between surface flow rate and diversion rate is provided as Plate 3. Real time operational changes to terminate diversion when minimum flows are reached should not be necessary. Compliance with minimum flows (11 cfs at the point of diversion, 5 cfs at Grand Avenue) would be enforced by the State Water Resources Control Board through monitoring and reporting by the District.

The project still requires additional permits before construction can begin, currently scheduled for Fall 2011.

More info:

COMMENTS: I testified to the Board that they should delay the approval of the environmental document until the water rights issue is worked out. I also said that without a watershed plan, or even a water budget, it is unclear how much benefit or impact this project would have on a watershed scale. If such a plan was in place, along with conjunctive use agreements for surface water/groundwater management, the resource agencies could be assured that in-stream flows would be maintained and/or enhanced with projects like this.


Floodplain Development and Urban Sprawl

One of the greatest threats to water quality and quantity and our coastal ecosystem is unsustainable urban development. Although Ventura County has some of the most progressive land use guidelines in southern California, constant vigilance is required on the part of the citizens to ensure such guidelines are followed.

Case Studies:

I. Santa Paula, CA

In April, 2011, the Local Agency Formation Commission voted to allow the city of Santa Paula and the Limoneira Co. to move forward on a plan to build a massive master-planned community within the floodplain of Santa Paula Creek. Limoneira plans to build 1,500 homes, community fields, parks, police and fire stations, and new commercial buildings in what would essentially amount to a new 537-acre community. The vote was 6-1, with Commissioner Carol Smith, who also is a Ojai City Councilwoman, opposed because of potential flood risks near the proposed development.

This decision was based upon outdated information, and even that demonstrated that 45% of the area would be underwater. In a 2006 FEMA study completed after the project EIR, the volume of a 100-year flood was increased by 40%.

Citizen Action:

The Environmental Defense Center, Ventura County's only nonprofit law firm, represented Keep Sespe Wild in a legal challenge to the decision. Through its negotiations with Limoneira Co, an Agreement was reached for another environmental report to be done to consider the potential effects the project could have on flooding along Santa Paula Creek.

II. Ventura, CA

In 2005, the City of Ventura adopted a General Plan that called for an infill-first strategy to urban growth. This is a prudent fiscal and environmental policy that would concentrate resources on revitalizing the urban core, rather than promoting 'green field' development and urban sprawl.

In 1998, Ventura County voters passed the countywide SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) initiative, becoming the first (and only) county in Southern California to place urban sprawl issues to a vote of the people.

In 2010, as the Ventura City Council began planning for the Westside, a large property owner re-initiated discussion of expanding the city to annex an undeveloped canyon north of the city limits. Through a 'loophole' in the SOAR ordinance, the property could be annexed without a SOAR vote.

In response to this threat, a coalition of community groups formed to expressed their opposition including The Sierra Club, SOAR, Surfrider Foundation, Wishtoyo Foundation, VCCool, Ventura Audubon Society, Ventura Coastkeeper, Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation.

Citizen Action:

Following a year of public meetings, op-ed articles, outreach, and potential legal action, the City of Ventura made the right decision - to keep Westside redevelopment within city boundaries. This decision would not have been made without the high level of community involvement and commitment to protecting a quality of life unique in Southern California.

More info:


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ojai citizens want local control of water

In the news last week, Ojai group wants to buy out Golden State Water.

The group Ojai FLOW, Friends of Locally Owned Water, has proposed a special public district to buy out their water provider, Golden State Water Co. They propose for Casitas Water District to manage the water supply and infrastructure. According to their website, Golden State is a subsidiary of American States Water Company and is a public utility company engaged principally in the purchase, production, distribution, and sale of water.

For those who have seen the film FLOW (For Love Of Water,) this is a familiar theme. International corporations have seized on the profit potential of controlling water supplies, and there are now many cases in which local people have lost control, and sometimes even the rights to access their local own water supplies. Major businesses depicted in the film are Nestle, The Coca-Cola Company, Suez, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This movement in Ojai has been brewing for a while, largely in response to ever-increasing rate hikes. At stake is the sustainability of the Ventura River itself.

Read more:

On the web:


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ventura Drops Annexation Plans

Cañada Larga

On Tuesday night, Ventura City Council made the right decision - to keep Westside redevelopment within our city boundaries. This decision includes forgoing a bid to annex the unincorporated 'Upper Ventura Avenue.'

A coalition of community groups worked hard to express their opposition to the city's expansion, including The Sierra Club, SOAR, Surfrider Foundation, Wishtoyo Foundation, VCCool, Ventura Audubon Society, Ventura Coastkeeper, Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation

Thanks to everyone who dedicated their time and energy to help protect the Ventura River watershed since this issue came up last year!

In the news:

After hearing speakers for more than three hours, the council spent 30 minutes debating the details of the Westside plan. On a motion from Councilman Karl Morehouse, the council directed Community Development Director Jeff Lambert to work with the planning and design committees to include community comments to prioritize parks, housing for active seniors and local shopping.

...Even Bonsall, who represents the family who owns the Cañada Larga property, ultimately told the council that they should forego annexation and development at this time in favor of the long-promised plan.

Read more:

More info:

On this blog:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rafting the Ventura River

On March 22, 2011, a small group from the Ventura River Stream Team took advantage of spring flows in the Ventura River. The group has been talking about running the river for years, waiting for an opportunity with adequate flows to safely navigate downstream.

The original intent was to put in at the Ventura River Preserve and float the river all the way out to sea. But upon arriving at the Hwy 150 bridge, a couple of miles downstream from the trailhead, it was clear that it would be tough to navigate the rocky river. Although there was over 700 cfs flowing from the Matilija Creek confluence upstream, most of this water was being directed over to Lake Casitas at the Robles Diversion.

The group ended up putting in at Santa Ana Rd, where the channel is a bit narrower. Flows were still a bit low, and there was some 'pushing' involved to get through the shallow spots. Upon reaching the San Antonio Creek confluence things got more interesting. In some locations it was difficult to navigate through the willows, but the group made it to Foster Park. A smaller group decided to continue on downstream, and made it all the way to the ocean.

Watch the video on YouTube here:

The USGS surveyors were out that day and measured flow at Foster Park to be around 400 cfs, as noted by the red dot on the hydrograph.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Line in the Sand

People are wondering about the concrete structures being constructed on the beach at Surfers' Point. This 'cutoff wall' is, quite literally, the 'line in the sand.'

This low wall will mark the boundary between the restored beach and the new bike path. The 'line in the sand' represents approximately 65 feet of shoreline retreat, intended to make room for sand dunes and the buried cobble berm. The new wall and concrete bike path are intended to mimic the wall along the promenade beach in front of the City's beach parking lot.

Coastal engineering analysis calculated the 'wave runup line,' represented by the dotted line in the picture below. This was a calculated estimate of the landward limit of wave runup after an extreme event (approximate a 50-year recurrence frequency) and approximately 50 years of shoreline recession due to sediment deficit and sea level rise. In this manner the bike path is estimated to be set back far enough to withstand future damages for the next 50 years.

For all this to be truly effective, dunes will need to be constructed and vegetated within the retreat zone. Unfortunately this component of the project was not included in Phase I. Construction of these protective dunes will first require importing additional sand - the planned height of these dunes is approximately 3 feet.

The small dune area at Surfers Point today is the result of a Surfrider Foundation project dating back to 1992. Following construction of the parking lot in 1989, visitors trampled the dune vegetation and the sand blew away. Surfrider volunteers received a small grant to construct the wooden fencing that served to guide foot traffic through a fixed pathway from the parking lot to the beach. This fence was maintained for a decade by a dedicated Surfrider volunteer, and over the years the dunes slowly rebuilt themselves as native vegetation was allowed to naturally re-established itself.

The flowering dunes seen today are an indication that this habitat is ready to expand. Windblown seeds will spread these plants, which will in turn trap windblown sand and build dunes. The dune restoration plan, if funded and constructed, will 'jump-start' this process, and in a short time we will enjoy a restored natural beach at the mouth of the Ventura River.

More on this project: Surfers Point

See also


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

SRF Conference 2011

March 23-25, 2011

Annual Salmonid Restoration Federation Conference in San Luis Obisbo, CA

The plenary session included:

Towards ‘Ecosystem-based Management”­–a Case Study: Ventura River, California, Paul Jenkin, Surfrider Foundation and Founder of the Matilija Coalition

My presentation included an overview of the Ventura River Watershed and the ongoing efforts toward 'Ecosystem-based Management.' The multi-media presentation included the trailers for Watershed Revolution and Cycle of Insanity, as well as documentation of recent progress at Surfers' Point.

I also presented Monitoring Trends in Abundance and Distribution of Steelhead Above and Below Matilija Dam, Ventura, California, an update from the presentation I gave at Watershed U last year.

In addition, the half hour film "Watershed Revolution" showed during the movie night and social event on Thursday, and our poster, "Removing Matilija Dam," was presented during the Friday night poster session. In all, the Ventura River was well represented at this annual gathering of fisheries and watershed restoration practitioners from around the state.

The conference agenda is online at

The conference website will soon include a video of the plenary presentations...


Stream Team Trash Survey

On March 5th 2011, Ventura River Stream Team volunteers spent a Saturday morning mapping trash in the Ventura River estuary. The estimated 200 people living in the river-bottom generate a tremendous amount of waste - both 'trash' and human waste.

It is clear that this is a severe problem that directly impacts water quality in the estuary and the heavily used beaches near the rivermouth (i.e. Surfers' Point)

On April 5, 2011, Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper sent a letter to the City of Ventura and responsible agencies documenting the results.

The letter says:

During this event, thirteen volunteers inspected public lands on the eastern floodplain of the Ventura River from the Highway 101 bridge to the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of only two hours, volunteers located and documented over 35 dump sites containing human waste, garbage, chemicals, and active and abandoned campsites. Channelkeeper has compiled the results of this survey in a photographic report that is available on our website ( .

Most of the waste identified during our survey has accumulated since the same area was
targeted by City cleanup efforts last August. In fact, according to the City of Ventura, over 55 tons of garbage have already been removed from the Ventura River over the past three years. As our report demonstrates, however, waste continues to be generated at an alarming rate.
We note that the condition of these sites has likely changed dramatically since these observations were recorded. On the weekend of March 19th and 20th, a significant rainfall event occurred during which the river’s elevation rose dramatically, enough to flood the occupied stream banks, stranding homeless residents and requiring emergency helicopter evacuations. Neither Channelkeeper staff nor Stream Team volunteers have re‐visited these sites since these observations were recorded, but waste from many of these sites likely washed downstream onto the beach and into the ocean.

...We also believe that without an additional focus on long‐term preventative solutions, that the Responsible Parties participating in the Ventura River Trash Total Maximum Daily Load program will continue to be unable to meet mandatory limits established to protect water quality.

The complete report, including dozens of photos like those shown here, may be downloaded from the SBCK website here:

In the news:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Matilija Dam - Next Steps

The final meeting of the Matilija Dam Fine Sediment Workgroup was held on Wednesday April 30. This was the fourth all-day meeting intended to "agree upon possible solutions to manage the approximately two million cubic yards of fine sediments" currently stored in the defunct reservoir.

The final consensus from the workgroup, which included representatives from each of the stakeholder groups, was to pursue two paths:

I) Interim Notching Design
II) Hybrid Alternative Analysis

The design and analysis identified through the stakeholder process will define the immediate data gaps necessary to achieve stakeholder and regulatory clearance to move forward with both short-term notching and the long-term dam removal plan.

The details of this plan are as follows:

I) Interim Notching Design:

Ventura County will pursue investigations into the feasibility of notching the dam down to the silt line, independent of the federal Corps of Engineers process. The intent is to lower the height of the dam to limit the capacity for further accumulation of sediment in the upstream reservoir area.

The Feasibility Study revealed that Matilija Dam has the potential to continue to trap sediment transported down Matilija Canyon from large storms. This accumulation (up to 3 million cubic yards, or an additional 50% over the estimated 6 million cubic yards) is changing the 2004 baseline conditions. And each year that the dam traps more sediment, the ultimate cost of the dam removal project increases.

Because funding is scarce, and it may be many years before federal appropriations are available for the full dam removal process, it was agreed that this is a prudent 'interim' step that is acceptable to the stakeholders.

II) Hybrid Alternative Analysis:

During the third meeting, the Working Group identified the potential for a hybrid alternative that could reduce the cost of the project while minimizing the potential for requiring congressional reauthorization. This 'hybrid' would consider the potential for optimizing sediment management with three components:

A. Reservoir Area - storing sediment upstream of dam within upland terraces & possibly under the roadbed

B. Slurry - transport fines downstream to BRDA disposal areas identified in Feasibility Plan

C. Notching - opportunistic 'natural transport'

A. Reservoir Area Design:

The group agreed to first prioritize the Reservoir Area Design. The Feasibility Plan called for excavation of a 100-ft wide meandering stream channel through the sediment upstream of the dam. This channel would re-create a natural gradient for the riverbed, which would allow for controlled natural release of sediment from the temporary storage areas over time. During Feasibility it was assumed that all 2 million cubic yards of fine sediment (silt and clay) would be slurried downstream - but the cost and location of the slurry disposal areas hung up the project.

The Reservoir Area Design will reconsider the potential for incorporating some or all of this fine sediment into the temporary storage areas identified in the Feasibility Plan. This design will;
  • Determine upstream storage capacity in keeping with the Feasibility Plan
  • Develop a re-vegetation and natural stream-bank stabilization plan
  • Determine potential incremental impacts as compared to the Feasibility assumptions
This design process will incorporate 'natural' sediment stabilization to the maximum extent, and minimize soil cement stream-bank hardening. The workgroup agreed that the intent is to develop a design to re-vegetate the sediment storage areas to minimize erosion of the fine sediments that may create a chronic water quality problem downstream. It was made clear that this was not intended to re-visit the "Upstream Storage Areas" that raised objections last year.

B. BRDA Design

Once the Reservoir Area Design is complete, the remaining quantity of fine sediments that may need to be slurried downstream will be better defined. This will determine the area needed and drive the design for the downstream slurry disposal areas.

BRDA is the 'Baldwin Road Disposal Areas' for fine sediment slurried from reservoir as identified in the Feasibility Plan. Reducing the quantity of sediment that needs to be slurried may reduce the costs that increased for this project component during final design. Design for these areas will include consideration of temporary storage and revegetation of more permanent areas.

C. Natural Transport

Although there was much discussion of the potential for utilizing Natural Transport within the project time frame, this was not identified as a priority study in the final meeting. This was largely due to the unpredictable nature of our climate and the need to prioritize limited funding for studies. The general idea was to be prepared to take advantage of a large storm event if it occurred during the 2-3 year construction operations. Studies to consider this option would include analysis of how to notch the dam and control the release of sediments, and a determination of the subsequent downstream impacts to water quality and biological resources.

One of the potential means to mitigate any impacts may come from the "Double Barrel Bypass," as proposed by Matt Stoecker. This concept would take advantage of the slurry pipelines to deliver clean water diverted from upstream of the project area directly to water users downstream.

Optimization of Hybrid Alternative

Once the technical feasibility and data gaps are complete for the three components above (Reservoir Area Design, BRDA Design, and Natural Transport), an optimized solution may be developed based upon the associated cost estimates. The final disposition of the 2 million cubic yards of fine sediment will be determined by the capacity, costs, and environmental impacts of each of these management scenarios.

Next Steps:

The next steps in the process are;
  1. Outcomes Document - the Study Group will be reviewing a draft report that documents the outcome of the facilitated process sometime later this month.
  2. Studies - the studies outlined above will be commenced using the limited funding available and utilizing expertise discussed in the Workgroup meetings
From the meetings over the past months it was clear that the group is supportive of the project moving forward as soon as possible. There was consensus on the outstanding issues and the priorities for next steps, but the overshadowing dampener is the clear lack of funding in the near term.

With that in mind, this process cleared the way for the local agencies to move forward with a plan to notch the dam to prevent further sediment accumulation.

At the same time, the plan for dam removal can be refined in order to realize the ecosystem restoration objectives and reduce overall project costs in preparation for future funding opportunities.

In the News:

New Proposal on How to Tear Down Matilija Dam Unveiled
After negotiations over how to tear down Matilija Dam reached a stalemate last year, a new proposal is being examined on how to remove the massive amount of sediment built up behind the defunct dam near Ojai.

More information:

Each of the stakeholders provided written comments in response to a questionnaire posed to the group. These documents were used to consolidate the issues and develop the path forward, and may be downloaded from

The Feasibility Plan is described in a simple poster here:

Other presentations and information is also available at

Matilija Coalition comments are online at

And the recent history of the project is documented on this blog: