The Ventura River Project, authorized March 1, 1956, is one of three large-scale federal water projects in the Southwest California region; the other two are the Santa Maria and the Cachuma Projects. These seacoast projects capture seasonal floodwaters for beneficial use.
The project is located on the Pacific coast, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, covering 90,000 acres. The Ventura River and its tributaries are the main water sources for the project. The Ventura River bisects the lower, southern portion of this area, and flows to the Pacific Ocean.
The coastal Chumash Indians lived on fish and shellfish from the sea and game from the backcountry. The Ventura River Basin was visited in 1542 by the Spanish navigators who landed at Ventura Harbor. Agriculture did not become established in the area until about 1782, when the Mission Fathers dedicated San Buenaventura.
During the mission days, agricultural activities were devoted to raising crops and livestock to supply the needs of surrounding settlements. Water was diverted from Ventura River near the mouth of Canada Larga. An old, massive-walled settling tank that distributed river water to the mission is still intact.
During Mexican rule, before the middle of the 19th century, the land was divided into large grants that were subdivided later and sold to settlers. By 1900, more intensive cropping practices had replaced most of the earlier grain farming, and there was a gradual reduction in the size of farms. Production of apples, apricots, and peaches was initiated at an early date. Citrus fruits were successfully introduced into the Ojai and Ventura River valleys; commercial planting started in the early 1900s.
Development of urban communities and population growth within the Ventura River Basin has been rapid, particularly since 1920. Groundwater basins and stream flows provided pre-project water for agriculture and municipalities. The City of Ventura also had three wells along the ocean beach for backups in a dry year; however, saltwater encroachment threatened these wells.
Irrigation and Municipal and Industrial Deliveries
The principal products of the project area are citrus and other fruits. In addition, avocadoes, and berries contribute substantially to the agricultural produce of the area. The project supplies water to about 7,000 acres of agricultural lands and serves 60,000 municipal customers.