Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DamNation film

Patagonia's film about our nation's dam problem has been on tour this spring and racking up the awards:
Winner – SXSW Audience Choice Award
Winner – Documentary Award for Environmental Advocacy, DC Environmental Film Festival
Winner – Mountainfilm Audience Choice Award
Winner – Best of Festival, 5Point Film Festival

On Thursday, June 5, Patagonia presented the award-winning, feature length documentary DamNation,  at Patagonia Retail Stores in 23 cities nationwide.

Our local Great Pacific Iron Works sponsored the evening event in Ventura.  The community came out in force, over 500 people packed into the outdoor "tin shed" courtyard behind the retail store.  After the film the Q&A featuring Yvon Chouinard and Paul Jenkin drew many informed questions from an audience that was fired up to help remove our local deadbeat dam, Matilija Dam.  Proceeds from the sales of donated Stone Brewery beer and a Patagonia product raffle went to support the Matilija Coalition!

The Matilia Coalition was also part of the May 21 showing at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara.  That event also sold out with over 600 attending!

Starting on June 6, DamNation is now available at Vimeo On Demand for digital viewing. DamNation will be available to rent ($5.99) or buy ($9.99) for viewing on almost any device.  Also check out the Patagonia Collection on Vimeo On Demand.

Surrounding the film’s appearances at festivals and other events around the country since March, Patagonia has asked people to get involved and ask President Obama to authorize studies on removing four problematic lower dams on the Snake River. To date, over 25,000 people have signed the petition asking the administration to “crack down on deadbeat dams” – signatures that will be delivered to the White House at a later date.

Since its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on March, DamNation has been hailed by The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, National Geographic and Time Magazine. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard recently published an op-ed in The New York Times arguing for the removal of low value, high cost dams.

Aside from telling the story of our endanger salmon runs and the recent large dam removals, the film is a must-see for anyone with lingering curiosity about the scissors on Matilija Dam!



Matilija Dam meetings May 28, 2014

On May 28, 2014, the Matilija Dam Design Oversight Group (DOG) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met.  The morning was spent summarizing the recent history of the project and updating the DOG on the consultant hiring process and recent work products, while the afternoon was dedicated to receiving technical input on the next steps.  The complete presentations from this meeting as well as the technical references are downloadable from the project website at

The details for the events on this recent timeline are summarized on this blog.  The short version is that the project got bogged down in 2007-2008 over the proposed management of the fine sediment that is trapped behind Matilija Dam.  The federal feasibility study included a dredge-and-slurry system to physically move this fine sediment downstream of the Robles Diversion Dam which diverts water into Lake Casitas.  Construct-ability and cost concerns led to the formation of the Fine Sediment Study Group which recommended further analysis of alternatives to the slurry system.  These studies are now underway under the guidance of the TAC. The work is being performed by a combined consultant team from two firms, URS and Stillwater Sciences, both of whom have considerable experience with other major dam removal and river restoration projects in the western United States.

The meeting included an overview of the study process from URS, as well as more technical presentations from Stillwater Sciences.

Seth Genzler, project manager for URS, explained the current scope of work for the studies that are expected to be completed in early 2015.
  • Task 1: Dam Removal Plans and Cost Estimates 
    • a) Task 1.1: Background Review & Concept Matrix
    • b) Task 1.2: Initial Options Screening
    • c) Task 1.3: Full Dam Removal Concepts Evaluation
  • Task 2: Sediment Analysis
    • a) Task 2.1: Hydrologic Assessment
    • b) Task 2.2: Sediment Characterization
    • c) Task 2.3: Initial Options Sediment Analysis
    • d) Task 2.4: Full Dam Removal Sediment Analysis
  • Task 3: Robles Diversion Mitigation 
    • a) Task 3.1: Background Material Review
    • b) Task 3.2: Hydrologic Assessment for Water Supply
    • c) Task 3.3: Robles Mitigation Concept Evaluation

Derek Booth (Stillwater) presented a summary of the recently completed Hydrology and Sediment Characterization Reports that provide an overview of the river hydrology and sediment transport with the goal of providing some insight to reservoir sediment management under various dam removal scenarios.  He proposed a set of hydrographs to be used in the sediment transport modeling to represent varied water years.  The analysis demonstrated that flows at Matilija Dam are approximately 1/3 of those downstream at Foster Park.  Note the very steep hydrographs typical of our "flashy" river system.  This illustrates both the very high peak flows (with high potential for sediment transport) as well as the very short window of opportunity for natural sediment transport.

One of the primary considerations in plan formulation for the removal of Matilija Dam is the operations of the Robles Diversion Dam, located about 2 miles downstream.  An analysis of actual diversion rates over the past two decades revealed that Robles accounts for approximately 28% of the water stored in the reservoir.  (Note that previous planning had been based upon the assumption of 45% contribution from Robles.)

Stillwater also conducted an analysis of the sediment currently impounded upstream of Matilija Dam.

Based on recent LIDAR surveys and pre dam topography Stillwater estimates there are now 6.8 million cubic yards of sediment contained in the "wedge" upstream of the dam.  (Analysis conducted a decade ago estimated 6 million cubic yards, indicating that additional sediment may have accumulated since then.) As illustrated below, approximately 65% of this is a mix of fine silt, clay, and sand, while the 35% further upstream is coarser grained cobble, gravel, and sand.

The question above was posed based on an analysis that predicts 99% of natural sediment transport in the river to be fine sediment. The answer is that the dam has actually trapped very little of the fine sediment from Matilija Canyon, the majority of which flushes over the dam during flood events as illustrated in this photo.

The afternoon Technical Advisory Committee meeting reviewed the Initial Screening Process and a Concept Matrix developed by URS to summarize all the previous dam removal concepts that have been considered as well as develop some new ideas based on discussions with the technical team.
Previous analyses covered many different approaches to dam removal, and have been described and analyzed in the following technical documents:
  1. Appraisal Report (USBR 2000)
  2. Feasibility Study (USACE 2004)
  3. Upstream Sediment Disposal Areas (USA; USACE 2010)
  4. Fine Sediment Study Group Final Report (FSSG 2011)
  5. Double Barrel Bypass (Stoecker 2011)

All of the previous concepts were combined along with several new concepts in a large table and then consolidated into a flowchart based on sediment management approach.  From these, several concepts (or groups of similar concepts) were carried forward into a potential initial options list.

Note that these are not the final options, as the Technical Advisory Committee had some input and suggestions during the afternoon meeting, and will be reviewing and commenting on these to further refine this list.  The options selected will be carried forward into the next level of analysis that will be directed toward determining the approximate cost and feasibility for a comparison of the concepts.

These graphics are excerpted from the presentations and technical memos available at

Previous history of the project may be found on this blog: