If Ventura County residents seriously want to see our region’s environment brought closer to its natural state, they better hope Congress has a good follow through.

So far, the signs are good. Finally, after nearly seven years, Congress mustered enough courage to stand up to President Bush. As Staff Writer Hannah Guzik reports in this week’s feature story (See page 12), both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives voted resoundingly to override Bush’s veto of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. Not only was this Congress’ first override of a Bush veto (buoyed for years by a kowtowing Republican majority and a weak-kneed Democratic minority, Bush so far has only vetoed five pieces of legislation), it has been 10 years since its last override (although he vetoed more legislation, that was also President Clinton’s only override).

As Guzik reports, this means that $145 million has been authorized for the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project, a long-delayed project that could bring new life to the anemic Ventura River (The bill also aids projects that will benefit other places such as the hurricane-stricken gulf coast and the Florida Everglades).

The Matilija project would remove a 60-year old dam on the Ventura River. With the dam removed, supporters claim, the river’s watershed can begin to recover from years of neglect and thirst. It could also help endangered wildlife populations and halt erosion on local beaches. As Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett rightly points out in Guzik’s article, a restored river would also be a boon to the local tourism industry. Coupled with the Trust for Public Land’s Ventura River Parkway project, the Matilija project would also renew interest among County residents in the river and strengthen the county’s quality of life.

Local organizations should be commended for working so closely together on the Matilija project. Like the Santa Clara River, the Ventura River is one of this country’s last wild rivers, and it is encouraging that so many people have recognized its value.

But the veto override wasn’t the last obstacle for the restoration project. Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), whose district includes the Ventura River, must press Congress to appropriate the money necessary for the project. Authorizing the funds is one thing. Getting them to start flowing is another. Capps’ colleagues must now put the money where their mouths are and pay for the projects included in the water resources act. They must withstand accusations of pork-barrel spending and stand up to the President, for whom they have continued to crumble even after the Democratic Party won a majority during the 2006 elections.

If this final year of the Bush presidency and the 110th Congress is to be salvaged, legislators need to realize that progress happens through bold, confident governing. The public, meanwhile, needs to reward legislators and other politicians who take decisive action to help their communities with their support.