Pictured: Title page for the filing of the Proposed Physical Solution in the active Ventura River Watershed Adjudication. 

by Paul Jenkin

Our water supply has reached a critical state, yet local agencies continue to evade the elephant in the room; unsustainable consumption threatens the future of our community.  If the past is any indication, the current drought may have only just begun.  Evidence in tree ring data reveal that the past century was perhaps the wettest in millennia, with dry periods lasting up to 70 years!  The severe drought impacting the entire Western United States makes clear that importing water from the dwindling Sierra Nevada Mountains snowpack will do nothing to enhance security.  

Recognizing the need to adapt to a changing climate, California state legislators passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to require local water agencies to develop sustainable management practices. Yet many agencies see this as a threat, rather than an opportunity to protect our community. Seeking to subvert oversight, local agencies are now proposing a “physical solution” to the adjudication lawsuit which will do nothing to maintain a sustainable water supply.

At least proponents are honest when they say, “The physical solution is needed now to reduce or prevent State Water Resources Control Board pumping/diversion regulations.”  Buried in hundreds of pages of jargon is a legal disclaimer for any accountability for responsible water management into the future.  If adopted, the physical solution would exempt “uncontrollable conditions” including “drought or natural catastrophe, including climate change” or “the need to provide an amount of reasonable and beneficial consumptive use of water from the watershed.”

The physical solution also proposes a management plan to improve the condition of Southern California steelhead similar to the Habitat Conservation Plan that was rejected by resource agencies 20 years ago. Management of this endangered species falls under the purview of NOAA Fisheries and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, whose recovery plans clearly identify the limiting factors for the species: migration barriers and decreased flows.  Of course, the primary actions required for the Ventura River steelhead are the removal of the obsolete Matilija Dam and maintaining the instream flows necessary for their survival.  

It is important to remember that the fish are merely an indicator of how well we are managing our resources.  A dead river will threaten our ability to live in this coastal desert.  We all need to work together to ensure that our precious local water supply is managed wisely to ensure a sustainable future. And if water managers want a “physical solution,” let’s hurry up and remove Matilija Dam.

Paul Jenkin is the Ventura Campaign coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation and founder of the Matilija Coalition.