Matilija Dam is a 168-foot-high arched concrete dam, originally constructed by the Ventura County Flood Control District (now Watershed Protection) in 1947 to provide water supply and flood control within the Ventura River watershed. Structural concerns required lowering of the dam crest in 1965 and 1977 (original dam height was 198 feet), which, combined with reservoir sedimentation, has rendered the dam obsolete. The accumulation of approximately 8 million cubic yards of sediment negatively impacts aquatic and terrestrial habitats along the river, and deprives Ventura County beaches of much needed sand and cobble. The dam also blocks the migration of endangered Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) to critical habitat in the headwaters of Matilija Creek.

Matilija Dam no longer provides the intended water storage and flood control benefits, and poses an increasing risk and liability to Watershed Protection as its condition continues to deteriorate. Recognizing this, in 1998 the Ventura County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution stating, in part, that it is “necessary and beneficial” to remove the dam; and soon thereafter the first of many studies related to dam removal was underway.

Those initial studies revealed that, both as part of dam removal and independent of it, downstream infrastructure requires upgrading to address current and future flood protection and water supply needs. For example, if Matilija Dam were to be left in place, projections show that its reservoir would completely fill with sediment by 2030, creating additional pressure on downstream infrastructure. Thus, under any scenario, existing levees and bridges as well as the Robles Diversion Facility require modification to accommodate increased sediment transport from the Matilija Creek headwaters to the Ventura River estuary.

The Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project (Project) presents an opportunity to address Watershed Protection’s potential liabilities while restoring the community and ecosystem benefits and resilience of the watershed. Removal of the dam will restore access to important headwaters habitat for endangered steelhead populations; enhance downstream riparian and floodplain habitats through improved natural sediment transport; and replenish the Ventura River estuary and near-shore coastal habitats with long-sequestered sands and cobbles.


15.6 miles from the ocean
Ventura County Public Works Agency – Watershed Protection  (Watershed Protection or VCPWA-WP)
Date Constructed
Water supply and flood control
Pre-construction estimated cost
Actual construction cost
~$4 million
Constructed height
198 feet (1,125 elevation)
Current height
168 feet (1,095 elevation) (notched in 1965, 1977)
620 feet
8 feet at crest, 35 feet at base
Original Reservoir Area
126.8 acres
Drainage area of Matilija Creek above dam site
55 square miles
Original Spillway Capacity
60,000 cubic feet per second at water elevation 1,137 feet
Reservoir Capacity: Design
7,018 acre feet
Reservoir Capacity: After notching
3,800 acre feet (excluding sedimentation losses)
Reservoir Capacity: Current
Less than 150 acre feet by mid-2020 due to ongoing sedimentation losses
Reservoir Capacity: Projected
Zero capacity before 2030