Matilija Dam authorization pending Senate vote
Override of water bill veto aids damBy Michael Collins
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
WASHINGTON Federal approval for Ventura County's plans to tear down the Matilija Dam finally appears within sight.
The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override President Bush's veto of a popular bill that authorizes hundreds of water resources and flood-control projects across the country, including the Matilija Dam project near Ojai.
The Senate is likely to follow suit, possibly as early as today, marking the first time in Bush's presidency that lawmakers have overridden one of his vetoes.
Bush vetoed the bill last Friday, arguing that its $23.2 billion cost was fiscally irresponsible. But lawmakers, including a number of Republicans, said the legislation was long past due and noted that it had been seven years since the last water-resources bill was passed.
The House vote to overturn the veto was 361-54, well over the two-thirds majority needed. "The president's veto of this strong bipartisan bill that will enhance the safety and security of millions of Americans was irresponsible," said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara. "I am proud Congress is taking quick action to override the veto and ensure that these critical infrastructure projects move forward."
Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, was among the 138 Republicans who voted to override the president's veto.
Ventura County has been trying for years to win federal approval for the Matilija Dam removal. The project has been talked about for at least a decade, and it has been six years since the county signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study.
The federal legislation, known as the Water Resources Development Act, authorizes spending $144.5 million for the dam removal and restoration of the Ventura River. The federal government's share would be $89.7 million.
County Supervisor Steve Bennett said the project is important because it involves much more than removal of the dam.
"It's a full ecosystem restoration project, which means it will return the Ventura River as much as possible back to its natural state," Bennett said. "And that has tremendous benefits for Ventura County.
"More sand deposition at the mouth of the Ventura River will stop some of the erosion problems we have there with the bike path. It also means more sediment deposits all along the river, which will decrease the scouring effect of the river."
The Matilija Dam was built more than five decades ago and is now considered obsolete, with 95 percent of its water capacity choked by 6 million cubic yards of sediment. The dam removal project is in the design phase.