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Press Release: Rice Creek Flows Free

By on December 16, 2013 in News, Press
Rice Creek After Restoration

Rice Creek After Restoration

This winter, Rice Creek will flow along its native route for the first time in roughly 85 years. The seasonal tributary of the Ventura River is located on the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s Ventura River Preserve. Back in the 1920’s, the stream was diverted from its native route to make room for a 60-acre orange grove. The diversion left the creek confined in a straightened ditch from which it shot through a culvert to the Ventura River floodplain 30 feet below. For the next 85 years, the important hydrologic connection between a tributary and its main stem lay severed. In late September and early October, however, the OVLC and our team of contractors freed Rice Creek from its bonds to let it flow naturally once again. The healing of the creek may now begin.The importance of tributary streams to natural ecology and hydrology cannot be understated. When hydrologic connections are severed, it affects all related systems in the drainage area. Hydrologists often describe the main job of a stream is to transport sediment. The distribution of sediments is what creates various aquatic habitats as certain plants and creatures are adapted to specific sediment sizes and types. When hydrologic systems are altered, sediment distribution patterns may change forever and result in permanent habitat loss. Wetted stream corridors are also among the most often utilized wildlife migration corridors. Wildlife looking to travel up the Rice Creek drainage from the Ventura River found only a 30 foot impassable cliff. It is a rare opportunity to get the chance to set things right by reconnecting a diverted stream.

Rice Creek Before Restoration

Rice Creek Before Restoration

The road to getting the project done was laid out over five years ago when the staff of the OVLC recognized this unique opportunity. A great deal of work was put into restoration planning and designs, as well as acquiring numerous permits. The project went through two design processes as we sought to make the project look and function as naturally as possible. We also changed funding sources several times throughout the course of the effort. While waiting for final designs, permits, and funding, we began the planting phases on what remained of the historic channel. Some of this vegetation is already creating habitat. In another five years we will probably not recognize the old ditch we once dreamed of restoring.At the beginning of September we were looking at a degraded, confined, and substantially shorter Rice Creek. Today we see the beginning of a new life for the creek. While the newly constructed areas look rather industrial at the moment, they will take on a more natural look and feel as flow returns and our re-planting work comes to life. We have a lot of people to thank for the success on this project including former staffers at the OVLC, our regulatory partners, Hawks & Associates, and Berry General Engineering Contractors, Inc.

The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy works to protect the views, trails, water and wildlife of the Ojai Valley. Since its founding in 1987, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy has permanently protected over 2,000 acres. On that land every year, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy maintains dozens of miles of trails, guides hundreds of visitors, and hosts thousands of guests—hikers, bicyclists, equestrians, school children and others.

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