Bennett outlines dam plans
By Jesse Phelps
Torpedo the dam; full speed ahead.
Well, not quite. Wednesday afternoon's meeting of the Casitas
Municipal Water District featured an hour-long presentation from
Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett detailing various options
for taking down the Matilija Dam, but torpedoes were not among
While the process is still in an early stage - participating
groups have yet to agree on a plan that will work and many questions
remain unanswered even with the best of the proposed plans -
Bennett was ready to endorse a basic outline and looked to the
board members for their input and approval.
Six million cubic yards of fine and coarse materials have built
up behind the dam since its installation in 1948. Taking out
the dam means dealing with tons of silt, clay, sand, gravel,
cobble and boulders.
Bennett's preferred plan would "temporarily stabilize"
the sediment as the dam is removed. Fine reservoir material would
slurry beyond the Robles diversion dam, where Casitas pipes water
from the Ventura River to the lake. This material would be caught
in a siltation basin that would be constructed on property adjoining
the river channel owned by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.
Another crucial element of the plan would be the mitigation of
sediment through the construction of a high-flow bypass at the
diversion dam. The bypass would help lessen buildup of sediment
behind the diversion, which would potentially effect both the
diversion of water and the passage of steelhead trout through
the passage that will be built there in the coming year.
The question of how to engineer the bypass for rocks going one
way to work in tandem with a passage for fish going the other
way is an open one and a major concern for the board, which,
after years of haggling, only just put the fish passage project
out to bid.
Another hanging question is whether the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy
will assent to let the county construct the siltation basin on
its land. Board member Pete Kaiser queried Bennett on the likelihood
of that cooperation.
Bennett's reply engendered much laughter in the room. "They've
committed," he said, "Just like you've committed to
this process. They're willing to talk about it."
And the questions don't end there. But, as Bennett said, time
is of the essence and it's in the best interest of all who wish
to see the dam removed (a necessity if the steelhead are ever
to reach the spawning grounds in headlands above it) to get the
With so ambitious a project requiring the cooperation of many
agencies, the removal may happen all at once or in stages. Or
it may not happen at all. The movement to remove the dam is a
unique undertaking; according to Bennett, nobody has ever taken
out a dam so large.
"This project would put Casitas on the map nationally,"
he said. "No dam this big has ever been removed and no river
system exists that is more primed for this sort of project."
The board also said goodbye to attorney and Ojai stalwart Jim
Loebl on Wednesday - or it would have had the dam presentation
not taken so long. A former mayor of Ojai in addition to his
duties as council for Casitas, Loebl waited as long as he could
before leaving for an appointment on Wednesday. A colleague wound
up making the announcement that, due to health reasons, he will
be leaving his regular practice after more than 40 years.
The Ojai Valley News
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