Matilija Dam

Defunct dam harmful to beach, fish, and people

About the Project

Matilija Dam, located inland of Santa Barbara and Ventura, California, was built in 1947, to for water supply and flood control. The dam is a safety hazard and defunct, with sediment nearly filling its reservoir. Matilija Dam blocks a tributary of the Ventura River about 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, cutting off steelhead migration and preventing passage to more than 50 percent of the primary spawning and rearing habitat of the river system. The dam also prevents downstream transport of nearly eight million cubic yards of sediment necessary to maintain the estuary and beaches at Surfer’s Point.

Over the past several years, with federal, state, and local funding, dam owner Ventura County Watershed Protection District and stakeholders undertook studies that identified various structural dam removal alternatives for dealing with the sediment behind the dam. In spring 2016, a multi-stakeholder Matilija Dam “Design Oversight Group” selected a preferred alternative dam removal concept. The District is now undertaking improvements to downstream levees, bridges, and roads that are preconditional to dam removal while concurrently advancing the design and permitting phases for the dam removal.

Owner: Ventura County Public Works Agency – Watershed Protection
Size: 168 feet tall, 60 feet wide
Project Cost: $182 million
ORF Investment: planning, fundraising, project management, coalition coordination, communications, technical support, real property acquisitions
Miles Opened: 31.8 miles
Fish: Southern California steelhead
Status: Project currently working through design, permitting, and fundraising phases

  • Restore 154 acres and 116 river miles spawning habitat; non-native plant removal and native planting
  • Restore sediment flow
  • Replenish sand at Surfers Point Beach
  • Address safety and liability concerns of dilapidated dam
  • Improve downstream bridges, roads, and levees
  • Enhance river parkway trail
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Project Partners

Ventura County Public Works Agency – Watershed Protection

Ventura County

City of Ventura

Casitas Municipal Water District

California Natural Resources Agency

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Wildlife Conservation Board

State Coastal Conservancy

State Water Resources Control Board

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Army Corps of Engineers

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Ojai Valley Land Conservancy

Ventura Land Trust

Once Upon a Watershe


Matilija Coalition