For Immediate Release, November 13, 2013

Contact:  Mati Waiya, Wishtoyo Foundation, (805) 794-1248
Jason Weiner, Ventura Coastkeeper, (805) 823-3301
Cameron Yee, CAUSE, (805) 658-0810
John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416

Complaint Filed to Balance Dam's Water Removal With Needs of Communities,
Wildlife Along Santa Clara River

Water Diversion Harms Endangered Species, People's River Use 

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.— Public-interest groups filed a complaint today with the State Water Resources Control Board asking the board to protect the Santa Clara River’s waters and wildlife by considering actions to balance water diversions at the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam with public trust and community needs. The dam, owned and operated by United Water Conservation District, is a primary cause of the sharp decline of the Santa Clara River’s ecosystem.

Implementation of economically and technically feasible diversion, transport, storage and infiltration solutions, combined with water-efficiency measures and reclamation incentives, will allow United to divert and use water reasonably and legally while protecting in-stream ecological, recreational and cultural uses.

“United’s longstanding disregard for implementing feasible solutions that would allow it to continue its historic average annual diversion while protecting the Santa Clara’s public trust resources demonstrates that the communities of Oxnard, Saticoy, El Rio, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru, and Ventura have been unnecessarily deprived of the benefits a live Santa Clara has to offer,” said Jason Weiner, staff attorney for Wishtoyo and its Ventura Coastkeeper Program.

United’s diversion, approximately 10.5 miles from the coast, takes almost all of the water flow from the Santa Clara River, causing a sharp decline in the river’s endangered steelhead trout. This water removal also harms native and endangered birds, riparian vegetation, and other wildlife including Pacific lamprey and southwestern pond turtles.

The diversion also hinders fishing, kayaking, summer swimming and inner-tubing. Chumash Native American cultural utilization of the Santa Clara and its natural resources are impeded, and the river’s communities, which rely on a live and accessible Santa Clara, also suffer disproportionately from the water draw.

“CAUSE believes that the youth and families in the communities of the Santa Clara River Valley have been unjustly deprived of the Santa Clara’s environmental, recreational, and socioeconomic assets that are required to be held in trust by the state for their benefit,” said Cameron Yee, staff researcher and community organizing director at CAUSE.

The public trust doctrine establishes that the waters and wildlife of the state belong to its people, and that the state acts as a trustee to manage and protect these resources and their public uses for its people’s benefit. Thus the Water Board has a continuing affirmative duty to protect public trust resources associated with the Santa Clara River whenever feasible, as well as the authority to reconsider the terms and conditions of United’s water rights — its license and permit — to protect those resources.

“Steelhead used to run in great abundance on the Santa Clara, but are now in danger of extinction,” said John Buse, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These fish are public trust resources that need access to the good habitat in the river’s tributaries, including Sespe, Piru and Santa Paula creeks.”

“It is the birthright of the Chumash, and all of the Santa Clara’s residents, to have a healthy river system. The Santa Clara lives and breathes inside of all of us and for us. United’s extraction of water without doing all it can to protect the river is extracting life from our communities,” said Mati Waiya, Chumash ceremonial elder of the Saticoy Turtle Clan and Wishtoyo’s executive director.

The Wishtoyo Foundation, its Ventura Coastkeeper Program, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the complaint.


Founded in 1997, Wishtoyo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit grassroots organization with over 700 members consisting of Ventura County’s diverse residents and Chumash Native Americans. Wishtoyo’s mission is to preserve and protect Chumash culture, the culture of all of Ventura County’s diverse communities, and the environment that our current and future generations depend upon. In 2000, Wishtoyo founded its Ventura Coastkeeper Program (“VCK”). VCK’s mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the ecological integrity and water quality of Ventura County's inland and coastal waterbodies for all beings in the County’s diverse community through outreach and education, restoration projects, advocacy, litigation, and community organizing and empowerment.

Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy’s (CAUSE’s) mission is to build grassroots power to realize social, economic and environmental justice for the people of California's Central Coast Region through policy research, leadership development, organizing, and advocacy. CAUSE’s vision is that together we can create a global community where we all contribute to, and benefit from, a sustainable economy that is just, prosperous and environmentally healthy. CAUSE’s staff, leaders and constituency work to organize our neighbors to address the systemic policy issues affecting the social, economic and environmental well being of our communities. In the Santa Clara River Valley, CAUSE works with the communities of Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, and Oxnard to improve these communities’ access to public transportation, healthy food, a clean environment, and recreational opportunities, including in the Santa Clara River.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back