Federal Funding Sought for Large Water Projects : Resources: Safety improvements at Ventura Harbor and flood-control systems for two rivers top the $7-million aid request.


From crashing waves in Ventura Harbor to floods along the Santa Clara River, Ventura County officials are beseeching the federal government to help curtail water-driven threats to the county's agricultural, fishing and tourist industries.

Water, the coastal county's economic and recreational lifeblood, is the focus of several initiatives before Congress. If all are approved, the total cost would be about $7 million.

None of the measures, however, would address the city of Ventura's most immediate water-related crisis: lack of it. The City Council gave preliminary approval to strict water-conservation measures last week because of a drought, and the matter is scheduled to come up for a final vote tonight.

"That's the problem with water in Southern California: When you get it, it's not where you want it," said John Doherty, senior aide to Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ojai), who is leading the push for federal authorization of several water projects in the county.

The costliest is the Ventura Port District's $6.45-million plan to reduce the rough, 12-to-14-foot waves and the gradual shoaling at the harbor's entrance that have capsized or damaged more than 60 vessels since 1982 and required annual dredging.

Other proposed Ventura County water projects include a $500,000 flood-warning system for the Santa Clara River and the cleanup of a partly completed flood-control system at the Santa Paula Creek, a tributary.

The federal government would pay for 80% of the Ventura Harbor project; the Ventura Port District would pick up the remaining $1.28 million.

"The entrance to Ventura Harbor is the most dangerous in Southern California," Richard S. Hambleton Jr., chairman of the district's Board of Port Commissioners, told the House Public Works and Transportation subcommittee on water resources last week.

"Vessel casualties are, unfortunately, a regular occurrence," he said. "This state of affairs results from the fact that dangerous shoal and wave conditions can develop in the entrance very suddenly and frequently."

To drive home his point, Hambleton gave subcommittee members sequential photographs of a 36-foot sailboat as it was submerged in thundering waves and subsequently tossed into the air. Other shots showed swamped crews and boats adrift in choppy seas.

The project calls for a 300-foot extension of the harbor's detached breakwater to improve wave sheltering, the addition of a 250-foot spur groin to the end of the north jetty to increase deflection of sand flows into a sand trap and the construction of a 650-foot groin on the South Beach to trap drift material. Each is a rock structure.

In addition, the channel entrance would be extended and the sand trap at the mouth of the harbor would be dredged deeper to diminish the waves and to increase the sand-storage capacity.

These recommendations, which emerged from six years of study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would allow the corps to dredge the harbor every other year instead of annually, Hambleton said. The dredging operation costs $1 million a year.

The primary beneficiaries, said Hambleton and district General Manager Richard Parsons, would be the commercial fishing industry, private tourist outings to the Channel Islands National Park and recreational boaters. Fishermen brought in catches of more than 12 million tons in 1988, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Choppy conditions have caused $47,000 in annual damage to the harbor as well as occasional broken bones and concussions, Parsons said. In addition, harbor vessels are prevented from leaving or entering about 110 days a year.

Lagomarsino expressed confidence that money for the harbor project will be included in this year's Water Resources Development Act.

Meanwhile, Lagomarsino and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) have sponsored legislation seeking approval of the Santa Clara River and Santa Paula Creek projects.

The Santa Clara River runs from the Santa Clarita Valley in northern Los Angeles County through the Ventura County communities of Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula and between Ventura and Oxnard to the ocean. Early this century, the San Francisquito Dam on the river in Los Angeles County collapsed, causing many deaths and great damage.

The proposed flood-warning system calls for the installation of solar-powered monitoring devices in mountains and forest recesses. The devices would instantly gauge the accumulation of rainwater and the height of the river and convey that information by radio to county flood-control base stations in Ventura and Santa Paula.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which proposed the Santa Clara warning system, is building a similar project on the Whitewater River. The Whitewater is in a rugged canyon above Palm Springs and is subject to flash floods.

The Santa Paula Creek flood-control project previously was approved by Congress. After the corps built a rectangular, reinforced-concrete flood-control channel upstream of the river in 1972, however, an environmental group sued to block the project until a court-approved environmental impact statement was completed.

The corps never completed the impact statement and insists that the project is no longer economically justified. In the meantime, the partly completed channel has been severely damaged by floods and, Lagomarsino said, "poses a serious threat of flooding" itself because large slabs point the wrong way and could obstruct the creek's flow.

Moreover, he said, "If the slabs break loose, they could carry down and dash against bridges."

The corps and the county's Flood Control District have been negotiating over the possibility of proceeding with a scaled-down project or simply removing the battered concrete channel.

To assure that a legislative vehicle is available if an agreement is reached, Lagomarsino has introduced a measure that would require the corps to provide assistance to the flood district when the warning system predicts a peak flood flow of greater than 16,000 cubic feet per second on the Santa Paula Creek. He said the bill eventually would be amended to include any eventual understanding between the corps and the county.

In addition to these initiatives, Ventura County and the United Water Conservation District may seek an additional loan of $4 million to $5 million from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the Freeman Diversion.

That project is a $20-million dam that is being built to channel water from the Santa Clara River into the Oxnard Aquifer, offsetting the intrusion of seawater due to over-pumping by farmers. The river water will be used for agricultural irrigation.

Fred Gientke, water district general manager, said last week that the additional loan will be needed only if construction runs into unexpected hurdles that force changes in the original design.

"We are keeping our options open," Gientke said of the project.

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