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Debris from Matilija slide threatens trout migration

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  • Paul Jenkin
    Debris from Matilija slide threatens trout migration By Zeke Barlow, zbarlow@VenturaCountyStar.com March 3, 2007 With its
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2007
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      Debris from Matilija slide threatens trout migration

      By Zeke Barlow, zbarlow@...
      March 3, 2007

      With its cool waters shaded by overhanging oaks, the north fork of Matilija Creek is prime habitat for the endangered steelhead trout. Environmentalists say the creek that cuts through the mountains north of Ojai is one of the cleanest, best watersheds for the trout in Southern California.

      The area is also rich with sandstone, a place where a mine has operated since the early 1900s, excavating rock used to stop erosion and build roads around Ventura County.

      But a year ago, when a rock slide from Mosler Rock Ojai Quarry tossed massive 4-ton boulders into the creek, the area that is great for mining became not so good for steelhead. The slide effectively choked the creek so that steelhead couldn't migrate upstream to some of the best habitat for the fish.

      For the past few months, a trio of steelhead advocates have been asking a handful of agencies to have the boulders cleared from the creek so the fish can access the upper watershed.

      Now, one year and a season of steelhead migration later, the boulders might be removed. Everyone involved in a meeting planned next week hopes to have the issue cleared up soon, but the last few months have been a long haul of bureaucracy, miscommunication and frustration.

      And with an unstable rock face after decades of dangerous mining, the chance of another blockage in the creek appears likely.

      The issue sticks in the craw of environmentalists because so much money has been spent on protecting the Ventura River, of which Matilija Creek is a tributary. Casitas Water District built an $8 million fish ladder so the fish can move around the Robles Diversion into the waters upstream. Matilija Dam is slated to come down in coming years at a price tag of more than $150 million.

      "When you talk about how much public money is going into the whole watershed and then one private company is negating that effect, something is not right," said Ben Pitterle, director of the watershed program for Santa Barbara Channel Keepers.

      Quarry owner Larry Mosler believes that he's done what the local, state and federal regulatory agencies told him to do, pulling out some of the boulders from the creek.

      Mosler bought the quarry two years ago and said the way the mine has operated for years before caused an unstable cliff that has resulted in a series of slides. The previous owner mined from the bottom of the rock face, causing massive rocks to topple down from above, he said.

      Mosler said he's trying to mine from the top of the mountain to try to alleviate some of the issues. But slides still happen.

      In September, he shored up the hillside that slid into the creek, removing a small dam that backed up the water flow. He said he thought that he needed the California Department of Fish and Game to see his progress before moving forward with taking the larger boulders out ­ a process that involves using a crane.

      But Natasha Lohmus, an environmental scientist with Fish and Game, said that Mosler had all the needed permits by fall and that the rocks could have been cleared out before the winter, when the steelhead migrate.

      "I would have loved to have seen more progress, but sometimes it doesn't move that fast," Lohmus said. "I want that path cleared so the fish can migrate through to their best spawning ground."

      Paul Jenkin with the Matilija Coalition filed a complaint with the county against Mosler in December, saying he had not done enough to clean up the rocks in the creek.

      Lohmus said there must have been some miscommunication between what she said and Mosler understood. At next week's meeting, she intends to tell him exactly what he needs to do, and Mosler said he'll comply with whatever orders he's given, although he believes that the boulders stabilize the banks of the creek.

      "I pulled out the boulders that I thought needed to come out," he said.

      He can't start removing more rocks until May, when the spawning season has passed and the water level has gone down. A meeting next week is supposed to address the particulars of cleaning up the creek.

      But with more than 7 million tons of rock still to be mined on the unstable hillside, there's a good chance that all the players will find themselves at this place again.

      URL: http://www.venturacountystar.com/vcs/county_news/article/0,1375,VCS_226_5391050,00.html

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