Newly Launched Open Rivers Fund to Support One of the Largest Dam Removal Projects in California

The aged and defunct Matilija Dam's days are numbered. (Credit: DamNationCollection)
The aged and defunct Matilija Dam’s days are numbered. (Credit: DamNation Collection)

Matilija Creek, Calif., November 29, 2016 – Today, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Resources Legacy Fund announced the creation of the Open Rivers Fund to support local efforts to remove obsolete dams and restore watersheds across the western United States.  The Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund supported by a 50th anniversary grant from the Hewlett Foundation, is making inaugural grants to several groups to provide early-phase project support for the removal of the Matilija Dam, located on Matilija Creek, a tributary to the Ventura River in Southern California and related Ventura River watershed restoration efforts.

The Matilija Dam is a 160-foot-high structure located 15.6 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean that is owned by Ventura County Watershed Protection District. The reservoir behind the dam is now 90 percent full of sediment, so the dam no longer serves its original purpose of water storage for agriculture.

The project will address safety concerns of the local government that the deteriorating dam could eventually fail. Removal of the structure will also enable sediment to move downstream and combat erosion by replenishing Surfer’s Point beach, reestablish access to 31.8 miles of prime steelhead spawning habitat blocked by the dam, and create recreational opportunities for the surrounding communities that will be reconnected to the river and coast through the Ventura River Parkway.

The dam removal project, which has received widespread community support, will also provide downstream infrastructure improvements to roads, bridges, local water supply, flood protection features, and trails. The Matilija Coalition—a coalition of community groups, including California Trout, Surfrider Foundation, and Patagonia—has been working with resources agencies for nearly 20 years to develop a comprehensive strategy to remove the dam and restore the river to healthy function.

Resources agencies involved include the State Coastal Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Natural Resources Agency, State Water Resources Control Board, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers and Casitas Municipal Water District, among others.

“The Community of Ventura came together and decided to remove this increasingly unsafe dam, and these funds will help us make our plan—20 years in the making—a reality,” said Paul Jenkin, Ventura Campaign Manager for the Surfrider Foundation and Leader of Matilija Coalition. “When this dam comes down, our community will be safer, our beach will be protected, and our river will thrive – both for families and for wildlife.”

“The Ventura County Watershed Protection District has been actively involved in the removal of Matilija Dam since 1999,” said Peter Sheydayi, Ventura County Watershed Protection District Interim Director. “Today, 27 percent of the original steelhead spawning habitat in the Ventura River watershed lies locked behind the dam. A successfully completed project would remove the Matilija Dam and facilitate the natural flow of sand and sediment from the mountains to the beaches, also allowing the endangered steelhead trout to reach habitat upstream of the existing dam to the place of their ancestral spawning and rearing.”

Open Rivers Fund’s investments in the project are designed to build on momentum built this year around the stakeholders’ coming together on the selection of a structural alternative for the project to ensure dam removal planning advances towards implementation. The Fund will support the District’s financial planning and project management coordination. It will also support the continued coordination of the Matilija Coalition’s outreach, implementation, communications, and project fundraising efforts.

Matt Stoecker, conservation biologist and producer of the film DamNation said, “Removing this obsolete dam will reconnect a healthier Ventura River to the communities and wildlife that depend on it. With this barrier gone and water quality improved, endangered steelhead trout will once again be able to swim from the highest mountain streams to the sea, and back again. This will be the largest southern steelhead restoration project ever carried out. We’re so thankful to see the Open Rivers Fund recognize and support this unique opportunity to revive our watershed and community.”

“Removing the Matilija Dam would be a huge win for this community,” said Hans Cole, Director of Environmental Campaigns and Advocacy at Patagonia. “For over 40 years, Patagonia’s global headquarters have been located just one short block away from the Ventura River, and we were a founding member of the Matilija Coalition. We’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of this deadbeat dam, and we know the incredible benefits dam removal would bring: from the recovery of the endangered Southern Steelhead, to the sediment release that would replenish our beaches and coastline. We’re grateful for the support of the Open Rivers Fund, and can’t wait to see our entire community reconnect with a free flowing river.”

“Removal of Matilija Dam is one of the most ambitious recovery actions identified in NMFS’ Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan,” said Mark Capelli, South Central California Recovery Coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The dam’s removal would be a significant milestone in recovering the endangered steelhead the Ventura River, and provide an important incentive to similar efforts in other watersheds which continue to be adversely affected by nonfunctional dams.”

“Thanks to the Hewlett Foundation’s generous support of the Open Rivers Fund, Resources Legacy Fund is pursuing dam removal and river restoration opportunities with community collaborations like the Matilija Coalition, throughout the West,” said Michael Mantell, president of Resources Legacy Fund. “The Open Rivers Fund will make it possible for these communities to better manage their rivers and water infrastructure,” Mantell added.

“The Open Rivers Fund reflects the Hewlett Foundation’s commitment to conservation across the Western United States,” said Larry Kramer, President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. “We are proud to support the Matilija Coalition and associated projects in the community. We hope the project will inspire others to pursue similar ones.”

 

Media resources, including photos and videos, are available here.

Read a fact sheet on the Matilija Dam removal project.

Read the Open Rivers Fund announcement press release.

Read statements of support from national leaders and community members.

CONTACT:

Liz Judge, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, 970.710.9002, ljudge@hewlett.org
Mark Kleinman, Resources Legacy Fund, 916. 442.5057, mkleinman@resourceslegacyfund.org
Caitlin Scott, Full Court Press Communications, 510.550.8176, caitlin@fcpcommunications.com
Sarah Hersh-Walker, Full Court Press Communications, 510.550.8170, sarah@fcpcommunications.com

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About the Matilija Coalition
The Matilija Coalition is an alliance of community groups, businesses, and individuals committed to the environmental restoration of the Ventura River watershed. Starting with the removal of Matilija Dam, we are working for the recovery of the bioregion to benefit the recovery of the Southern Steelhead trout and to restore the natural sediment supply to the beaches of Ventura. http://www.matilija-coalition.org/why.htm
About the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that advances ideas and supports institutions to promote a better world. For 50 years, we have supported efforts to advance education for all, preserve the environment, improve lives and livelihoods in developing countries, promote the health and economic well-being of women, support vibrant performing arts, strengthen Bay Area communities and make the philanthropy sector more effective. On the web: www.hewlett.org
About Resources Legacy Fund
Since its founding in 2000, Resources Legacy Fund (RLF) has embodied an innovation in conservation philanthropy as a donor-driven enterprise focused on lasting results. RLF offers its donor-partners a unique mix of capabilities to deliver outcomes that improve environmental sustainability in Western North America as well as in oceans and fisheries worldwide. RLF provides leading-edge strategy and execution that draws on world-class, mission-driven environmental, conservation, and policy expertise to achieve large-scale conservation outcomes, engaging emerging urban communities as well as established conservation constituencies, business leaders, and policy officials. www.resourceslegacyfund.org

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