Two 26″ Steelhead Spawn In San Francisquito Creek Below Searsville Dam. Will They Survive?

CalTrout’s been supportive of the fight to remove Stanford University’s Searsville Dam, which blocks upstream access to steelhead and doesn’t offer dedicated flows.

This video of two 26″ steelhead should remind us why we’re fighting:

Unfortunately, it’s likely these two steelhead will fail to spawn and might even die (from a Beyond Searsville Dam email:)

Unfortunately, despite the great news that wild steelhead continue to return to our San Francisquito Creek, there is bad news as well. As many of you saw in our two newsletters from almost exactly one year ago, a pair of adult steelhead were documented in this exact same location, but later died as the creek dried up and left them stranded. This lower section of the creek becomes dewatered every year and is not adequate for steelhead rearing. Ideally these steelhead would be spawning further upstream were there is year-round flow, but they are often trapped by shallow water in this lower reach below upstream diversion operations. As with the steelhead that died last year, these steelhead can no longer migrate further upstream or make is back to the Bay due to shallow riffles blocking their migration. The clock is ticking for these steelhead as the lower creek dries up.

Adding to the natural permeability of the creek channel in this lower reach are several water diversions upstream that are active this time of year and remove critical flows from the creek. These diversions include two operated by California Water Service Company and Stanford University’s Los Trancos Creek Diversion Dam, San Francisquito Creek Pump Station, and Searsville Dam.

With California Water in the process of upgrading it’s Bear Gulch Diversion Dam and dedicating downstream flows for steelhead, Stanford’s Searsville Dam remains the only stream diversion in the watershed without upstream fish passage or dedicated flows to protect endangered wildlife downstream.

If we learn anything, we’ll update you.


  1. Downstream says:

    Stanford has a choice: claiming they are responsible or actually being responsible. We hope they will be the responsible stewards and sustainable practitioners that they claim to be.

    Removing Searsville dam is a win-win for the University. This old dam’s days are done and a century after this thing was built, we now have less harmful and more reliable ways for them to get the same water they need.

    Is this one of our nations leading universities or an old-school private water company not up to speed?…. actually, even those companies are replacing their old harmful dams these days!

  2. Thanks! To organizations like yours, BeyondSeasvilleDam, Drake Magazine, and many others.. Keeping the destructive Searsville Dam in the spotlight will hopefully hasten it’s long awaited removal.

    With Cal Water taking the initiative and making modifications for down stream flows (about time!) in the very important Bear Gulch tributary, one can only think this is one more positive step toward stream restoration, and another blow to Stanford’s defense of Searsville Lake’s supposed value.

    • Removing Searsville Dam isnt just simple a tear down project. There is a LOT of sediment behind that dam and it needs to be kept out of the downstream creekbed. It’s do-able though and Stanford should be a good neighbor and do it soon. Years have been wasted as the native Steelhead population struggles to survive and reproduce. Stanford’s stubborness and apparent lack of concern for a struggling native fish is frustrating and creates a lot of community resentment.

      I used to sneak into Searsville Lake and fish when I was a kid in the late 50s and early 60s. We caught catfish, bass and panfish like Bluegill. We also caught two 12 inch trout in San Francisquito Creek, but that wasnt at all common. There were quite a few Rainbow Trout in the creek but they were VERY skittish and hid under bank overhangs and behind rocks most of the time.

      We fished Crystal Springs too and it was amazing. The fish were not wary at all and would bite on anything. We released all the Crystal Springs fish as we were often “busted” by SM County Sherriffs deputies or SF Water District rangers while hiking out. Trespassing kids were usually warned and let go. Fishing kids werent. We left our handlines carefully hidden near the lake’s edge. We never got caught with fish or fishing gear.

      I’ve been looking for Steelhead in San Francisquito Creek for years and have yet to spot one. I’ve seen their fry with the distinguishing side markings and adipose fin, but no adults and I look often. I’ve seen suckers, sculpins, threadfin minnows and even a few carp, but never a Steelhead. I corresponded a couple of times with the streamkeeper who was hired by conservationists to patrol the creek and report problems, like car wash runoff from the Oak Creek Apartments and manure washdown from various stables. He told me that he saw a few Steelhead every year and once spotted a Coho Salmon. I dont think there is a Coho run in SF Creek, it must have gotten lost. He said a good spot to see Steelhead was near the Cal Train bridge when the creek is running strong and clear late in the year. I keep hoping for a sighting.