Agencies face dam dilemma
By Jesse Phelps
Six million cubic yards of mud,
silt and rocks, piled high in the reservoir behind the Matilija
Dam, have county government and local agencies in a quandary.
According to Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, the materials
in the reservoir represent an entire set of hurdles to be faced
by a collective of government officials, nonprofit agencies and
concerned citizens working together to find a way to bring down
The dam's removal is key to the attempt to bring back Southern
California steelhead to their traditional spawning grounds in
the highlands of the Ventura River channel. The installation
of the much-debated fish passage at Robles Diversion will make
it possible for the fish to enjoy a larger stretch of the river,
but without removal of the Matilija Dam, much of the river channel
remains inaccessible to them.
In the interest of bringing back the fish, the county has been
working with all interested parties to find any mutually agreeable
solution to the problems caused by the buildup behind the dam.
Most likely, Bennett said, the county will work with the Army
Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to stabilize
the coarser materials, such as rocks and boulders. "The
tentative plan is stabilization of some degree," he said.
"The question is whether you temporarily or permanently
Bennett was not sure how this would be accomplished. Nobody could
be reached who could detail the specifics of how the sediment
materials might be stabilized.
Meanwhile, the "fines," or smaller pebbles and silt,
will be slurried down a pipeline to a predetermined location,
where they would be collected and stored.
But where will the basin be? In a recent presentation to the
board of directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District, Bennett
pointed to a 95-acre area next to Rice Rd, adjacent to the Ventura
River preserve. The wooded river-bottom property, next to a preserve
currently managed by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, would
become an enormous 15-20 foot deep siltation basin, surrounded
by large walls.
Bennett said last week that this is not the only possible location,
but in his presentation to Casitas, he intimated that it was
the preferred option. It would necessitate a bypass be built
at the diversion dam, which pipes water from the river to Lake
Casitas, for disbursal to Casitas Municipal Water District customers.
Another option would be to put the basin somewhere above the
diversion dam but no suitable location has yet been agreed upon
In what may be something of a setback for the county's plan,
the Land Conservancy voted unanimously to encourage the committee
to find other alternatives other than the siltation basement
in the channel, said Land Conservancy executive director Jim
"We voted to affirm the commitment to the dam removal,"
Engel said. "And we know they're going to have to find a
place to put the sediment. We even understand, from an engineering
standpoint, why they chose this location. But we committed to
the community to protect this property and the impacts from this
project are potentially large."
Engel said the conservancy respects the efforts of the county
to restore endangered species and the concern is making good
on promises to the people of the valley.
"The removal of the dam will improve things for not only
steelhead but about 26 other species, but at least in this option,
it focuses a lot of negative impact on our preserve," said
Engel. "We felt that this particular solution was in conflict
with our mission and it represents a potential breach of faith
with donors in the community to leave the property as pristine
as we found it."
David Pritchett, program coordinator for the Southern California
Steelhead Coalition, thinks the conservancy's vote is a good
thing. "This should help the county narrow down their options
and come to a final solution in a more timely fashion,"
If the riverbed issue seems a tough one, the pristine condition
of the water itself is also at stake. Engel echoed Casitas Municipal
Water District officials in saying that a major concern is the
quality of the water supplied to the valley from the river channel.
"We don't water quality to be reduced and we don't want
to lose water to the valley," said Engel.
The District officially supports the removal effort, according
to a recent press release, but is looking to see that all the
mitigation issues are adequately addressed to protect the Ojai
Valley area water supply, in addition to the steelhead recovery.
"It remains critical that we continue to protect our existing
water supply and water quality as we move ahead with building
the fish ladder and study the removal of the Matilija Dam,"
stated Charles Bennett, president of the board of directors for
the district. "The district already denies water services
to new customers as a result of the high demand to be placed
on the water supply by the federally required plan to divert
water to the fish ladder."
Officials from many of the concerned groups will meet on Oct.
15 to come up with a public proposal for the dam removal, said
Bennett. The Winter and Spring months will provide an opportunity
to collect public input and continue to redesign the plan.
Despite some of the new hurdles, Bennett remains optimistic.
"The vast majority of people really have their eye on the
prize," he said. "The ultimate removal of the dam,
free passage for the steelhead and natural sediment transport.
Agencies that often times have conflicts are working well together."
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
view of Matilija Dam, the first dam slated for removal.The big
obstacle remains what to do with 6 million cubic yards of sediment.