Matilija Dam removal momentum
by Kelly Feser Eells
As far as dams go, Matilija outlived its usefulness years ago.
Worse than a dam that provides neither water nor flood control
protection, however, is one that undermines the ecosystem, as
Matilija Dam has conclusively been proven to do. But the 6 million
cubic yards of sediment behind the dam wall didn't accumulate
overnight, and reversing the accumulation's negative environmental
impacts will take time, too.
On Jan. 31, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Ventura
County Flood Control District - the two agencies sharing the
costs of the dam's Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study, a
partnership entered into last June - held a public meeting, designed
as a "citizen input opportunity."
The last such opportunity was in May, 1999, when the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation led representatives from community environmental
groups, local, state and federal government, and associated geo-technical
agencies in a half-day roundtable discussion called, "Decommissioning
Matilija Dam." Official consensus was reached: the dam compromises
the viability of the Ventura River, the Ventura County coastline,
and has severely reduced the already endangered steelhead trout
population - its annual number of runs has gone from the thousands
to less than 200.
The Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution calling for dam
removal; legislative, lobbying, and funding subcommittees were
formed; and, in October 2000, then- Secretary of the Interior
Bruce Babbitt encouraged the momentum of the massive undertaking
by attending the Matilija Dam Removal Demonstration Project,
an appearance that underscored federal interest in restoring
Any project of this magnitude comes with a huge price tag. It
is estimated that the Feasibility Study will cost $4.22 million
dollars, with the California Coastal Conservancy providing approximately
$1.6 million dollars of the $2.11 million the Flood Control District
is responsible for. County officials note that they will actively
pursue grants over the next three years in order to offset the
balance, currently to be provided for with "zone one capital
improvement plan" funds.
Paul Jenkin, head of the Matilija Coalition (a non-governmental
umbrella organization that includes Ventura County's chapter
of the Surfrider Foundation, Patagonia, Inc., Friends of the
Ventura River, the Environmental Defense Center, and the Environmental
Coalition - all active participants in the efforts to remove
Matilija Dam from the Ventura River - was pleased with the turnout
"Removing the dam is the first step in restoring the Ventura
River," he said. Acknowledging the support of such groups
as American Rivers of Washington, DC, the California-based Friends
of the River, and CalTrout, he added, "Steelhead are an
indicator of the health of a watershed."
The Matilija Coalition will be leading a "field trip"
at the dam on March 23, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon. Engineers
from the geo-technical investigations work group involved in
the study will discuss "core sampling" (taken from
the sediment build-up) on site.
Input gathered from last week's meeting, said COE Study Manager
Jonathan Vivanti, will help in the preparation of the Environmental
Impact Statement, slated for a summer (2002) release. The study
is expected to conclude at the end of 2004.
Jenkin urges community involvement. To arrange a presentation,
or to learn more about the study and/or dam, call (805) 648-4005,
or contact him at email@example.com.
Vivanti may be reached at (213) 452-3809, or contacted through
the Study's website at www.matilijadam.org.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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