Will Levees on the Santa Clara River Harm the Environment?

by Nina Danza

A levee project along the Santa Clara River is proposed by the County Watershed Protection District (Ventura County) to contain storm water for the sole purpose of reducing flood insurance requirements to neighborhoods in Oxnard. The levees would be built from about Hwy 101 for 2 miles downstream mostly on the south (Oxnard) edge of the River. Two kinds of levees are proposed; earth berms and concrete walls varying in height up to about 6 feet.

The levees are proposed where endangered species habitat is mapped within the Santa Clara River. This River area is also considered one of the last nearly intact riparian (stream-side) ecosystems left in the state. According to state regulation, any project that could result in environmental impacts must be analyzed, first in a screening ‘initial’ study and then more fully in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Both steps have periods of public input. On Wed., Mar. 4 public input was taken during the initial study step at a meeting in the Marriott Residence Inn (Oxnard).

I provided public input as a representative for the Sierra Club, asking why several essential elements were omitted from the project objectives. I first mentioned storm water conservation which would involve adding ground water recharge and surface water quality improvements into the project. “The Storm Water Conservation Bill (SB985) was enacted in 2014 to increase the capture, clean, store, and use [of] storm water”, I noted, “and there is nothing in the project toward meeting that policy.”

missed target

I added that the project is blind to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act which names the Santa Clara River valley ground water basins in the highest priority group for establishing a plan to balance recharge and extraction. The levee project initial study states that the Oxnard groundwater basin is seriously overdrafted (more water is being taken out than is being put in), groundwater levels are falling and soil surfaces are subsiding. The flood control project contains no storm water conservation toward achieving a sustainable groundwater plan. I requested closed gravel pits and large undeveloped parcels adjacent to the south side of the River (El Rio) be pursued for groundwater recharge.

I also asked why the project was divorced from the Santa Clara River Parkway. “Thousands of acres of parkway land have already been acquired,” I explained. “In fact, the precise purpose of the parkway is to provide flood protection for adjacent private land and public facilities.” Incorporating the parkway land in the project design would mean reduced flood water elevation, therefore reduced levee height and reduced project cost. “The project and the parkway need to be married,”  I stated. “Instead, there is not one word about the parkway in the initial study.”

I indicated flood control can be achieved with multi-purpose projects like the parkway and groundwater recharge basins and that multi-purpose projects are far more fiscally responsible and environmentally acceptable. I showed an example of the multi-purpose project providing flood control, recreation, and habitat approved by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Los Angeles River / Arroyo Seco confluence. “This is what good flood control looks like.  Please enlist the Corps to provide technical assistance with a similar Santa Clara River project.”

ACOE / City of Los Angeles Sept 2013 Public Presentation “Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Study”

ACOE / City of Los Angeles Sept 2013 Public Presentation “Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Study”

A number of other concerns were made during the public input period at the meeting. One resident raised concerns about increased vagrancy and graffiti along the proposed concrete wall. Another indicated that possible environmental impacts would occur on air quality.

Written public input is accepted until Mar 27 on the County website www.vclevees.com where the initial study and other background information is located. Learn more about suggested improvements to the flood control project by visiting and ‘liking’ www.facebook.com/SantaClaraRiverConfluence

*Featured image: Facebook: Santa Clara River Confluence

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Nina Danza is a reformed flood control engineer and the Sierra Club Santa Clara River Committee Chair inspired to advocate for watershed management by a Lewis MacAdams (Friends of the Los Angeles River co-founder) quote that ‘The shopping cart is the indicator species of the urban river’.

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