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VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP | West County / Ventura

Study Gives River Brighter Prognosis

October 20, 2000|GAIL DAVIS

The Ventura River remains among the nation's most endangered waterways but is making progress, according to a study released Thursday by a Washington-based conservation group.

The 16-mile river is still ranked third in the country behind Washington state's Lower Snake River and the Missouri River, on a list of 13 rivers facing "immediate, severe environmental degradation," according to the study, released by the nonprofit American Rivers organization.

But recent efforts to find funding to remove Matilija Dam have given the river a brighter prognosis, the study said.

An Oct. 12 visit by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt raised awareness for groups seeking the dam's removal, according to the study. With county officials and members of local environmental groups looking on, Babbitt maneuvered a crane to pull a 16,000-pound chunk from the aging, obsolete dam in a symbolic step toward its eventual destruction.

Critics say the 145-foot-tall dam, built in 1947 for flood control, has outlived its usefulness. The dam was designed to hold 5,000 acre-feet of water, but buildup of silt and mud has reduced its storage capacity to 500 acre-feet. An acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough water to supply two average-size families for a year.

The silt also prevents sand from washing downstream to replenish Ventura County beaches and blocks migration of endangered southern steelhead trout, according to the American Rivers study.

Demolition would cost $30 million to $70 million and could soar to $150 million if habitat above and below the dam is restored and the silt hauled away, according to one report. Local environmentalists say the river's high ranking on the endangered rivers list might draw attention and help gain funding.

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