Matilija Dam – Ojai, California - Atlas Obscura

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Matilija Dam

The disdain for this dysfunctional dam is reflected in a giant pair of scissors painted on the concrete face. 


Few dams are as widely despised as the Matilija Dam. Designed in 1947, the 200-foot wall of concrete was constructed in the rugged Matilija Canyon to manage water in the Ojai Valley, despite warnings that sedimentation would render it useless.

Since its construction, the Matilija Dam has blocked the passage of steelhead trout to their spawning grounds and trapped sediment from the watershed. Today, the dam has entirely silted what was once a pristine creek and a deep lake is now a barren field. This has negatively affected the beaches of Ventura County, which owe their existence to sediments from the mountains.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of people in the area support removing the dam. However, the cost of removing the dam and the trapped sediment, along with the impact it may have on the Ventura River and nearby Lake Casitas, has prevented its removal. In 2011, activists painted scissors and a dashed line down the dam in support of its removal.

Know Before You Go

The dam is located off Highway 33. Take a left off the 33 (going north) onto Matilija Road. There are good views of the silted-in lake from the crest of the road.

There is no public access to the dam itself. Entering the area is trespassing.  

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