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County Focuses on Erosion Control After Fires

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taking steps to minimize damage from the winter rains, Ventura County is launching a multimillion dollar effort to clear away brush and build earthen flood barriers in stream beds and other waterways in areas scarred by recent wildfires.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt a plan Tuesday to spend $3.8 million--nearly all federal and state emergency assistance funds--to begin work in the areas damaged by the Green Meadow and Steckel fires.

Without the improvements, stream beds during heavy rains could become easily plugged with ash, mud and sediment from the barren hillsides.

“After we have a burn, there is much more potential for erosion,” said Alex Sheydayi, deputy director of public works. “Potentially if we have a relatively small storm, we could have flooding.”

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County officials plan to concentrate their efforts on clearing the debris and building barriers to trap sediment along the south branch of the Arroyo Conejo near Thousand Oaks and four channels in the Santa Paula area. The waterways include the Fagan Barranca, Adams Barranca, Todd Barranca and the Haines Canyon channel.

“We always need to be looking toward the future,” Supervisor Maggie Kildee said. “Perhaps we can use the fact that these terrible fires occurred to do some of the clearing and erosion control that needs to be done.”

The county officials plan to use funds from the federal Soil Conservation Service and the state Office of Emergency Services to perform the work, which could get under way this week.

The federal agency will pay 75% of the cost while the state emergency services agency will pick up nearly 22% of the tab. The Ventura County Flood Control District will be responsible for paying the remainder, about $220,000.

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Ed Gunen, principal engineer for the county Flood Control District, said county officials must first get the permission of private property owners to gain access to the waterways.

Once clearance is granted, officials will begin an effort that includes cutting fallen trees and other debris with chain saws and removing grass with a machine that operates similarly to a lawn mower.

After the massive Wheeler fire, which burned 119,000 acres near Ojai in 1985, the county took similar action to clear channels, Kildee said.

“We did a great deal of work in the stream beds afterward to protect property owners from possible flooding and it was successful,” she said.

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In addition to removing debris from the waterways, the county has also begun reseeding some of the scorched hillsides with fast-growing plants to help prevent mudslides, Gunen said.

“You cannot just close your eyes to a potentially damaging situation,” Gunen said.

Added Sheydayi: “Potentially anything that is done would be useful. If we have a storm, it will make a difference. No question about it.”


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