The Matilija Dam’s days are numbered. Although it is unclear just how many days will pass before the dam is completely destroyed, one thing is certain: A new allotment of federal funding has just moved the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Reconstruction Project (MDERP) closer to becoming a reality.
According to Peter Sheydayi, Deputy Director of the Design and Construction Division for the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, the federal government awarded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) $1.3 million for the project. (Sheydayi said the funds, which were given last week, must be used before the end of September 2007.) The USACE and Ventura County are co-sponsoring the project.
Receiving the money is good news for Ventura County and the Army Corps of Engineers, because lack of funding has been one reason the project is slightly behind its timetable, according to Sheydayi.
The MDERP’s plan to demolish Matilija Dam is part of a larger effort to restore the watershed for the endangered steelhead trout. The MDERP is actually a series of projects that will all help restore the Ventura River and improve the quality of the watershed. According to Sheydayi, while it is designed to help the endangered steelhead, the project will also help many other species, endangered or not.
“When [the project] meets all its goals, it will provide habitat which is really exciting,” said Sheydayi.
Although the project is primarily in the planning stage, Sheydayi said some work on the project could begin soon. Ventura County received grants to remove non-native plants, such as castor bean and arundo cane, and to start drilling water wells in Foster Park. Both projects could begin as early as Fall 2007. But there are levees, bridges and other major construction efforts that will be built in total, and the Army Corps of Engineers has been waiting on funding to begin some of these projects. Sheydayi said the MDERP is projected to be completed in 2013.
According to Sheydayi, the Matilija Dam project started in 1999 and was instigated by “the efforts of local stakeholders to provide local habitat for the steelhead.” Originally built in 1947, the dam was constructed for water storage. According to list of dates related to the dam on the MDERP Web site (www.matilijadam.org), the dam has been problematic for years. Demolition was first proposed in the 1960s but was not seriously considered until recently. According to the MDERP website, there were more than 5,000 steelhead in the Ventura River in 1940, before the dam was built.
The Matilija Dam is located on the Ventura River 15.6 miles away from the ocean in Ojai near Highway 33. According to Sheydayi, the hope is that the MDERP will allow steelhead to swim freely up and down the river waters, to and from the ocean, allowing them to breed and spawn.