Watershead, Summer 2003
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State of the Environment in Ventura County
Earthday 2003

The following op-ed piece, written by FSCR Chair Ron Bottorff, was carried in the Ventura County Star on April 20, 2002.

In assessing the "state of the environment" of our region, one is confronted with a basic difficulty. It is undeniable that past and present Ventura County citizens, as well as humans in general, have been guilty of substantial mismanagement of the environment. It's also true that significant efforts within the region are now being made in repairing some of the damage. Hopefully, such progress will continue and eventually result in an improved regional environment. That we could have done considerably better, had we understood the problem earlier and operated under a more ecologically-aware land ethic, can hardly be contested.

The list of regional environmental transgressions is well-known, including air and water pollution, loss of natural habitat on a large scale, destruction of wetlands and river floodplains due to urban and agricultural encroachment, overpumping of aquifers, unwise damming of streams, and depletion of certain Pacific fish stocks caused by over-fishing.

Significant strides have been made in reducing the most pervasive air pollutant, ozone. The number of days our county exceeded the federal standard for ozone has dropped from 70 in 1982 to 2 in 2001. We still need improvement, however, to meet the federal standard, which requires that the one-hour ozone limit not be exceeded more than three times over three consecutive years. Particulate pollution remains a significant issue, especially considering the recent discovery of the harmful effects of very tiny particles (about one-tenth of a micron in diameter) which are carried in vehicle exhaust.

Our groundwater quality is generally good, with some exceptions, due in part to the fact that our county does not have the concentration of industrial facilities that has led to contamination in nearby counties. The former Rocketdyne plant in the Simi Hills is an exception, as is the Halaco plant near Ormond Beach. Both are high priority for cleanup. In the Calleguas watershed, construction of a so-called "brineline" to carry excess salt to the sea, should eventually relieve that watershed's excessive chloride problem. The county has a strong program for reduction of contaminants from stormwater runoff, using techniques such as catchment basins and cleanup of parking areas. Water quality problems in the The Santa Clara River, primarily associated with nutrients and chlorides, are being addressed through a series of regulatory actions by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Diversion of Santa Clara River flow to control seawater intrusion under the Oxnard Plain has been generally successful, albeit at the price of losing the historic steelhead runs in the river. Efforts to recover the steelhead are underway and will primarily involve improvements in fishladder operation at the Freeman Diversion. The eventual removal of Matilija Dam and the construction of a fishladder at the Robles Diversion should lead to restoration of steelhead runs in the Ventura River and an improvement in sand replenishment along Ventura beaches.

Several miles of Piru Creek, Sespe Creek, and Matilija Creek could be given Wild and Scenic River status under the California Wild Heritage Act, to be re-introduced in the Congress by Senator Boxer on Earth Day. Thousands of acres of wilderness in Los Padres National Forest would also be established should this bill become law.

Loss of wetlands and river floodplains are being addressed through the efforts of several conservancies. The State Coastal Conservancy has now protected almost 600 acres of Ormond Beach, with the possibility of protecting an additional 200 acres. The Conservancy has also begun implementation of its Santa Clara River Parkway project which will protect and restore about 6,000 acres of river floodplain and terrace lands, stretching from the estuary almost to Fillmore. The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy has done an outstanding job of land conservation in the Ojai area, including most recently the planned aquisition of over 1500 acres of the Intell Property. Significant progress has been made in setting up a Ventura County Open Space District. Authorizing legislation is in place and an Advisory Committee is now completing its report to County Supervisors on the best means to create, fund and govern the district.

Offshore, the recent establishment of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary affords hope that severely depleted fish species will begin to recover, and support the return of a more profitable, while at the same time more environmentally aware, fishing industry.

One of the most potentially harmful threats to our environment remains urban sprawl, with its inefficient and unsustainable land use and transportation patterns. The advent of the SOAR initiatives in the late 1990s has, as conceded even by its opponents, given us a "window of opportunity" to envision and create an improved pattern of development in the county. Such a pattern, to be successful, must incorporate many of the principles of the "smart growth" movement, such as mixed-use development, infill projects, and less auto-dependent communities. Involvement of citizens in future growth planning has proved successful in Ventura's "Vision 2020" project and could be extended county-wide through programs of the Regional Civic Alliance for Ventura County.

For the most part, the above constitutes a moderately hopeful regional picture. Considering the big picture, however, Ventura County citizens are part of a "first world" pattern of high consumption of materials and use of non-renewable energy sources that is placing immense stresses on the planetary ecosystem. If we and our fellow citizens prove incapable of adjusting relatively quickly to the realities of the Earth's carrying capacity, our progeny have scarce hope of avoiding an ecologically degraded planet and a reduced quality of life. Nothing in the national picture at present affords hope. The Bush administration has given no indication that it understands the urgency in conversion to renewable energy, conserving what remains of our natural resources, and cooperating with the rest of the world in achieving sustainable development and a decent quality of life for everyone on the planet. This is the most critical problem we face, one needing much more attention from our civic and political leaders.


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