Turbulent Times in the Ventura River Bottom: An Example of CA State Parks and Urban Interface.

The Ventura River and watershed/estuary is one of the most unique places in California.  It is a wetland/estuary, and like all wetlands/estuaries, has a diverse population of natural resources.  It is home to several federally protected species such as Least Bell’s Vireo, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Tidewater Goby, Southern Steelhead Trout, California Red Legged Frog, and the Coast Horned Lizard. However the quality of the habitat for all wildlife is threatened by the aggressive colonization of the invasive plant species, arundo donax.

The biggest threat to the area lately comes from humans.  Combined with three years of drought, and mild weather, the Ventura River Estuary has become home for many homeless in the Ventura area.  State Parks is a partner with several allied agencies who own property in the Ventura River, and have agreed on a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) Limit of Trash in order to help clean and protect the area.

We work with a local protection group, VHC (Ventura Hillsides Conservancy), to help clean the area and remove arundo.  We have been doing monthly volunteer cleanups in the area since 2013.  It has made a sizeable impact on the arundo, however the homeless population continues to increase, and with that comes lots of trash.

Since September of 2014, we have been undertaking weekly patrol sweeps of the Ventura River area to help clean up the area.  During these sweeps we have encountered everything from long term encampments (a year or more), several drug manufacturing sites, as well as active drug dealing and prostitution rings.

The sweeps have seized approximately 16.7 lbs. of marijuana, 3 grams of heroin, 3.5 grams of methamphetamine and, dozens of drug needles. An estimated 3,560 lbs. of trash and waste has been disposed of from within the Ventura River Group Camp/River Bottom Area. Three human caused wildfires have occurred in the area in the past year, burning over an acre.

There have been 30 citations issued and 12 arrests made for various violations connected to illegal encampments specifically within the Ventura River Watershed along with 12 arrests for illegal camping..

Hundreds of law enforcement labor hours have been required to conduct law enforcement “sweeps”, file arrests reports, testify in court, book evidence and safekeeping and to respond to calls for service within the areas of the Ventura River Bottom.  Hundreds of hours of maintenance crew labor have been required to assist with clean-ups and trash removal.

We are beginning to do daily cleanups with a maintenance crew cleaning areas cleared by law enforcement to increase trash removal.

Ventura Sector is working with the California Conservation Corps to open and clear much of the overgrown trail to promote access for both visitors and staff.


Here are some photos of the staff in action:

001State Park Peace Officers(Ranger) Geno Lucich and Jorge Barajas-Ochoa with the trash/items left behind in an encampment in the Ventura River.

002Maintenance Park Aid Isreal Abundis with a load of trash collected in the Ventura River.

003Three hypodermic needles containing heroin, found in an empty encampment in the Ventura River

004Trash dump at an encampment in the Ventura River

005State Park Peace Officer (Lifeguard) Pace in a trash dump in the Ventura River

006Trash, debris, and personal belongings in an Encampment in the Ventura River

007Emma Wood work crew:  ( SPPO’s Geno Lucich, Josh Pace Jorge Barajas-Ochoa, SPPOS (Lifeguard) Dan Raducanu, Environmental Scientists (PI) Brooke Sheridan and Chelsea Fletcher, Enviromental Services Interns David West Katelyn Umtesu , Seasonal Lifeguards Margot Diehl, Nick Givens and Christian Bennett.

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