Monday, February 24, 2020

Matilija Dam meetings February 2020

On February 11, 2020 two meetings were held to update stakeholders on progress being made on the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project.  Technical studies have been underway since 2018 with support from a $3.3 million grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As the earlier studies suggest, removal of the dam and release of the impounded sediment has implications for much of the infrastructure downstream including bridges, levels, and water supply components.  The current work has been focused on the feasibility of the new dam removal method, analyzing the sediment transport, and re-evaluating the downstream infrastructure needs.

The Technical Stakeholder Group met from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm at Ventura County's Saticoy Operations Yard.  The agenda was filled with technical presentations from the project consultants:

1. Welcome and Introductions – WPD – Peter Sheydayi
2. Dam Removal Contract - AECOM and Stillwater Sciences
      a. Field Investigations
      b. Dam Structural Evaluations
      c. Sediment and Hydraulic Analysis
      d. Predictability of Flushing Event
      e. Re-evaluation of downstream Project Components and Real Estate Plan
      f. Short-term Water Supply Mitigation Alternatives Refinement
      g. Long-term Water Supply Mitigation Alternatives Refinement (Robles)
3. Santa Ana Bridge – WPD
4. Camino Cielo Bridge – Dokken
5. Levees (Casitas Springs, Live Oak Acres, Meiners Oaks) – Tetra Tech
6. Coastal Sediment Studies – Integral
7. CEQA Update and Permit Plan – Aspen
8. Project Schedule and Upcoming Grants – WPD
9. Closing – WPD (5 min) – Peter Sheydayi

The evening Community Stakeholder Update meeting  was held from 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm at the Oak View Park and Resource Center Auditorium.

1.    Welcome and Introductions – Andrew Spyrka (VCRCD), Glenn Shephard (VCWPD)
2.    Project Overview – Peter Sheydayi (VCWPD), Paul Jenkin (Surfrider Foundation)
3.    Funding Updates – Hans Cole (Patagonia, Inc.), David Yardas (Project Consultant)
4.    Organizational Updates  – Sam Jenniches (State Coastal Conservancy)
5.    Technical Updates  – Peter Sheydayi, Brian Person (AECOM)
6.    Project Schedule – Peter Sheydayi
7.    Questions and Discussion – Public and Presenters
8.    Closing  – Glenn Shephard, Andrew Spyrka

In case you missed it, the evening meeting was recorded and up on the Ventura River Watershed Council's YouTube channel:

On this blog:

Matilija Dam State Prop 1 grant

More on the CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife grants:

Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Ventura River Adjudication – Remembering the Past

Mission San Buenaventura
founded March 31, 1782
water supply through aqueduct
from the Ventura River
 at what is now Foster Park
The current controversy surrounding the adjudication of water rights to the Ventura River has focused on the most recent efforts by the City of Ventura to secure its water rights to the Ventura River.  Many may not know that this effort has deep roots in the past.

The City of Ventura was incorporated in 1886, but it claim to the waters of the Ventura River extend back to the establishment of Mission San Buenaventura in 1782.  In addition to the Missions, the Spanish and Mexican governments also established a series of Pueblos and Ranchos between 1769 and 1835 in what later became the state of California. Despite its not being a successor to one of the eight original Spanish or Mexican Pueblos, the City has periodically asserted its claim to the waters of the Ventura River based on a Pueblo water right.

In 1976 the City of Ventura attempted to assert a Pueblo water right against the Casitas Municipal Water District.  The appropriative water rights granted to Casitas in the 1950’s required them to bypass the first 20 cubic feet per second of flow at the Robles Diversion to protect downstream water rights.  The City claimed, however, that this provision did not fully protect its Pueblo water rights.

Conjunctive Use

Ojai Valley News, Feb 18, 1979
To resolve this dispute, without formally asserting and establishing the City’s Pueblo water right, the City and Casitas proposed to enter into a Conjunctive Use Agreement. This agreement would have allowed Casitas to divert all of the low flow of the Ventura River at its Robles Diversion (up to 500 cubic feet per second) to Lake Casitas.  In exchange Casitas would guarantee the City up to 6,000 acre-feet of water annually from Lake Casitas.

In 1978, the Friends of the Ventura River filed a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Impact Report’s conclusion that the Conjunctive Use Agreement would not adversely affect the Ventura River.  In 1984, after losing in the lower courts, the California Supreme Court rejected the City’s appeal, effectively terminating the Conjunctive Use Agreement.

Endangered Species and Clean Water

In 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed steelhead trout in southern California as an endangered species. Rather than comply with new regulatory requirements, the City decided to forego surface diversion and instead rely on its wells at Foster Park.

In 1998, the State of California formally recognized that the Ventura River was impaired by excessive pumping and diversions pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act.

In 2003 NMFS sent a letter notifying the City that the continued operation of the Foster Park wells posed a serious threat to steelhead. In 2007 NMFS issued a “draft jeopardy biological opinion” that specified a minimum flow to protect steelhead at Foster Park.  In response, the City chose to postpone repairs and enlargement of its well field, and recommenced the operation of its other existing wells in the Foster Park area.

A Dry River

In 2013, the City’s hydrology consultants concluded that their pumping was detrimental to critical habitat for endangered steelhead in the Ventura River. The City continued to pump unabated, and from 2014 to 2016 the Ventura River was pumped completely dry at Foster Park for a significant portion of the year.

In 2014, after many years of monitoring water quality in the Ventura River under a program certified by the State, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper filed a lawsuit asking the State to compel the City to reduce its pumping at Foster Park consistent with NMFS requirements. The City responded by petitioning to have the lawsuit dismissed and also simultaneously filed cross-complaints against all other water right holders in the watershed.  The Court rejected the City’s petition.

In 2018, the Appellate Court allowed the City’s cross-complaint against all water right holders to proceed. In 2019, the City signed an interim agreement with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, based on the NMFS 2007 jeopardy biological opinion, and entered into a court-sponsored settlement agreement process with major water purveyors and several major agricultural landowners.


In January 2020, the City of Ventura commenced adjudication by serving legal summons to over 10,000 individual water rights holders in the Ventura River watershed.

(note: Adjudication is just a fancy word for suing everybody in the basin, and to resolve groundwater rights, you have to bring in all the users.)

Ventura Assistant City Manager, Akbar Alikhan, responding to questions about the Ventura River adjudication, claimed “…this is not a water grab. We are trying to find a solution that balances the needs of the local habitat while still providing the valuable water to our local residences.” 

Given the City’s long history of claiming unlimited, and unrestricted rights to the waters of the Ventura River, is it reasonable to ask what that balance will be?

Residents who use the watershed, whether as water supply or outdoor recreation, have a stake in the outcome of this latest chapter in the long history of exploitation of the Ventura River.

In the press:

Ventura River adjudication: Remembering the past, Ojai Valley News,  Friday, 14 February 2020



The Friends of the Ventura River maintains a library of documents:

Ventura River 1978 Conjunctive Use Agreement & DEIR (Part 1), Casitas MWD & City of SanBuenaventura, June 1978

Ventura River 1978 Conjunctive Use Agreement & DEIR (Part 2) Casitas MWD & City of SanBuenaventura, June 1978

Friends Prevents River Untimely Death, Ojai Valley News, Feb 1979

It's Your River Too!, Ojai Valley News, March 1979

100 Trout Lead Court to Reject Plan to Tap Ventura Water, LA Times, June 1988

2013 Comprehensive Water Resources Report (Ventura), City of Ventura, 2013

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Complaint v. State Water Resources Control Board and the City of San Buenaventura, Sep 2014

Ventura River Watershed Adjudication Website, City of Ventura, 2020