2010 – Construction for Destruction: Downriver Diversion Dam Modifications Required for Matilija Dam Decommissioning

Aric Torreyson, Krey Price, Bob Hall

In a 2004 feasibility study, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and Ventura County Watershed Protection District (VCWPD) recommended decommissioning Matilija Dam, a concrete arch dam originally constructed to a 60-metre height in 1948. A decade after its completion, the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) constructed the Ventura River Project, comprising additional facilities designed to meet the growing water demand of Ventura County. Robles Diversion Dam, a 7-metre high by 160-metre long diversion structure located downstream of Matilija Dam, was built under the Ventura River Project to feed Lake Casitas, a water supply reservoir that serves as an integral part of the overall project.
Due to extreme sedimentation, Matilija Dam no longer serves its intended water supply and flood control purposes. In addition to the loss of storage capacity, other issues surround the dam, including adverse environmental impacts from its continued operation, seismic considerations, and structural concerns. These concerns led to the decision to decommission the dam as an essential step in rehabilitating key ecosystems in the Ventura River Catchment and reducing future risks to public safety. According to current estimates, 5 million cubic metres of sediment has accumulated behind the dam and will need to be removed in conjunction with the dam decommissioning; minimising the associated downstream impacts has been the subject of additional government studies.
The USBR determined through detailed hydrologic, hydraulic, and sediment transport analyses, including numerical and physical modelling, that the existing Robles Diversion Dam was not capable of passing the increased sediment load expected to result from the removal of Matilija Dam. To increase the sediment transport capacity across its spillway, the existing diversion dam requires modification. Under contract with the Corps, Tetra Tech and its subcontractors are completing the design plans for the Robles Diversion Dam modifications.
This paper presents unique aspects of the Robles Diversion Dam modifications, including sediment management procedures guided by numerical and physical model results and issues associated with the design of a rock ramp spillway and high-flow fishway, expansion of the existing spillway gate structure, and raising of the dam embankment. The rehabilitation efforts reduce impacts to the migration of endangered fish species and allow for the eventual removal of Matilija Dam, which is the ultimate goal in the effort to balance engineered structures with a natural river setting. When completed, the project will provide fish passage to the upper catchment for the first time in over sixty years.

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