CalTrout Sues Bureau of Reclamation Over Endangered Steelhead Deaths

California Trout, represented by the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), filed a lawsuit on October 6th in federal district court in Los Angeles against the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau). The lawsuit alleges that the Bureau violated the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) by causing the deaths of hundreds of endangered Southern California steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) at Hilton Creek, below the Bradbury Dam and Cachuma Reservoir in Santa Barbara County.

Hilton Creek, which is located directly downstream from Bradbury Dam, is designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service as critical habitat for the endangered steelhead. The Bureau is required, pursuant to the ESA and a Biological Opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2000, to release water into Hilton Creek to ensure adequate flows for the species to migrate, spawn and mature and to ensure that the fish does not fall further into jeopardy of extinction. Water released into Hilton Creek flows directly into the main stem of the Santa Ynez River, providing water for downstream agricultural and other users.

Between March 2013 and June 2014 the Bureau’s water pumps continually failed, causing Hilton Creek to run dry, and leading to the death of at least 393 steelhead.

“The Hilton Creek fish kills are a good illustration of the problems that plague the entire Santa Ynez River watershed,” said Kurt Zimmerman, California Trout’s Southern California Program Manager. “Before the construction of Bradbury Dam, the Santa Ynez River supported the largest single run of steelhead south of San Francisco. The number of adult fish in this watershed will remain negligible or even decline until the Bureau manages the operation of the dam in a manner consistent with the protection and recovery of this important species.”

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CalTrout, EDC Plan to Sue Federal Government Over Deaths of Endangered Steelhead Trout

CalTrout and Environmental Defense Center yesterday issued a 60-day Notice of Violations and Intent to Sue to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act.

The letter puts the Bureau on notice for its actions causing deaths of endangered Southern California steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) at Hilton Creek, below the Bradbury Dam and Cachuma Reservoir.

Between March 2013 and March 2014, the Bureau’s pumps failed to properly function and release water, causing Hilton Creek to run dry, and leading to the death of roughly 176 federally-endangered Southern California steelhead.  This past week, the pumps failed yet again – an outage which has killed over 200 steelhead.

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For coverage of the pump failures and action taken by CalTrout and EDC read the Independent article and the Noozhawk story.


Steelhead Exhibit at Aquarium of the Pacific Makes Debut

AoP signOn May 24th the Southern California Steelhead Story exhibit debuted at The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach with 8,672 guests in attendance.

The exhibit aims to educate the public about the steelhead’s plight and enlist them in its fight for survival. While at the exhibit, guests can watch the CalTrout-produced film, Against All Odds, a documentary about the steelhead, one of California’s most magnificent and endangered native fish species.

CalTrout's Kurt Zimmerman and NOAA Coordinator, Reni L. Rydlewicz, on hand at the exhibit.

CalTrout’s Kurt Zimmerman and NOAA Coordinator, Reni L. Rydlewicz, on hand at the exhibit.

CalTrout’s Southern California Program Manager, Kurt Zimmerman, was on hand to answer questions about the restoration work being done by CalTrout and others to try to revive the species which is on the brink of extinction.

As stated in’s coverage of the opening,

With the exhibit, the agencies hope more people will learn about the species and involve themselves in watershed issues that affect both humans and wildlife. “The story doesn’t necessarily have to be a sad ending,” said Schubel, “We can help a happy ending for the steelhead and for the environment.”

Hear, hear.

First Steelhead Trout in Decades Spotted at Malibu Lagoon

Restoration work at Malibu Lagoon to save the endangered South Coast Steelhead seems to be paying off.  A 20-inch long steelhead was spotted in the Creek on May 15th, the first sighting in decades.

Congratulations to all those involved in the restoration efforts, including CalTrout’s Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition Coordinator, Candice Meneghin.

“The project had a lot of critics during its implementation, because people didn’t believe that you should use a bulldozer in a sensitive habitat. The counter to that is that when you fill in a wetland with bulldozers and let that dirt stay there for 70 years, the only way to get it out again is to use more bulldozers,” said Suzanne Goode, a senior environmental scientist at California State Parks. “We feel somewhat vindicated to our critics who said that we were going to kill everything.”

For more on the restoration efforts, read the California State Parks press release.  Click to learn more about our Santa Clara River restoration project and the Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition.

2014Malibu Lagoon Steelhead Trout










Photo Credit: Jayni Shuman, RCDSMM Stream Team.

New Aquarium of the Pacific to Feature CalTrout’s “Against All Odds”

California Trout and the Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition have been raising the awareness of the plight of the South Coast steelhead and the need to recover the species in the region.  A big piece of those efforts has been promoting CalTrout’s documentary, Southern California Steelhead: Against All Odds, produced by Mike E. Weir.  The film premiered in November at Patagonia’s Great Pacific Iron Works and, since then, there has been an outpouring of support and interest in the documentary by conservation partners and educators alike.

A short version of the film will be included as part of the new Aquarium of the Pacific, slated to open May 23rd.  According to the LA Times,

Initially, the aquarium’s exhibit will pulse with hundreds of rainbow trout. “Eventually we may experiment with the chemistry of the water in hopes of watching some of these fish morph into steelheads,” Jerry Schubel, president and chief executive,  said.

The goal is to promote public support for restoration projects needed to turn local rivers back into “steelhead freeways,” he said.

We’re thrilled to be a part of this important project.

Released! See “Southern California Steelhead: Against All Odds” In Its Entirety

Nine months in the making, Southern California Steelhead: Against All Odds is now available online. We hope you enjoy watching this video as much as we enjoyed making it happen. Kudos to filmmaker Mike Wier for producing this stirring documentary, which looks at the dangers facing Southern California’s steelhead populations — and the things being done to protect and restore them.

Southern California Steelhead: Against All Odds from California Trout on Vimeo.

(Having trouble viewing it through the embedded player? Then watch it on Vimeo.)

Recovering California Steelhead South of Santa Cruz

By Kurt Zimmerman, Tim Frahm and Sam Davidson

Article reprinted with permission of Osprey Magazine

Kurt Zimmerman is Southern California Regional Manager for California Trout. Tim Frahm and Sam Davidson are California Central Coast Steelhead Coordinator and California Communications Manager for Trout Unlimited. Visit their web sites at:

Many anglers consider the steelhead trout (O. mykiss) the “perfect fish.” Steelhead are widely revered for their power and grace in the water, and for the high challenge of actually catching one. Sport fishing for steelhead is a major contributor to many local economies along the California coast.

Steelhead are rainbow trout exhibiting an anadromous (i.e., migrating to and from the ocean) life history. Unlike salmon, however, steelhead do not perish after the first spawning season, and may complete the cycle of anadromy multiple times.

Steelhead populations have declined precipitously across much of their range along the west coast of North America. Yet, steelhead are a remarkably resilient salmonid, and even in the most degraded habitats, remnant populations still persist. This fact, and the legal status of steelhead, have led to a multi-party effort to recover the species south of San Francisco Bay by restoring habitat, improving streamflows and fish passage opportunities, and even rescuing juveniles, as river segments dry up or become disconnected during summer. For more than two decades, steelhead advocacy groups such as California Trout (CalTrout) and Trout Unlimited have driven this effort, working in partnership with local steelhead conservation organizations, resource agencies, municipalities, agricultural interests, and water providers.

Click here to read more…

Sizable Snowfall Loss Predicted in Southern California Mountains

LA-area mountains may lose 30-40% of annual snowfall by mid-century according to new UCLA climate study

LA snow loss

The mountains surrounding Los Angeles will lose up to 42% of their snow by mid-century.

Southern California has long been known as the place where you could ski the nearby mountains in the morning and surf in afternoon.

By mid-century, those days may be gone. This “Climate Change In L.A.” press release was published by Climate Resolve — a Southern California group aimed at “Inspiring Los Angeles to meet the challenge of climate change.”

You can find more on their Climate Change LA website, but those who fish Southern California’s mountain streams for trout will want to pay attention.

Press Release

Today, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences released Mid- and End-of-Century Snowfall in the Los Angeles Region, the second in a series of studies commissioned by the City of Los Angeles, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The snowfall study provides detailed forecasts of diminishing snowfall in Southern California Mountains between 2041-2060 and between 2081-2100.

The full study is available here.

This study predicts that, by mid-century, Los Angeles area mountains – including the San Bernardinos, San Gabriels, San Jacintos, and the Tehachapis – will lose upwards of 42% of their annual snowfall, given greenhouse gas emissions continue in a “business as usual” scenario. By the end of the century, the loss of snow will be closer to 70%.

Fortunately, if immediate substantive efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mid-century and end-of-century loss of snow could be limited to 31%.

Despite the threats of climate change, Los Angeles’ future is not yet decided. The City of Los Angeles has already taken big steps to reduce our carbon impact – including the decision to move off of coal by 2025 and investing in public transportation throughout the region.

While we will have to adapt to a changing climate with less snowfall and increased temperatures, Los Angeles has the opportunity to lead cities across the globe to a better future, ensuring that we will not only survive climate change, but thrive.

The full study is available here.

CalTrout’s Southern California Steelhead Recovery Efforts Win Wells Fargo Environmental Grant

Good news if you’re a Southern California steelhead!

CalTrout received a grant from Wells Fargo & Company and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help fund our San Diego and Orange Counties Watersheds Steelhead Restoration Coalition (SanDOC for short).

This will help us grow and solidify the Southern California Steelhead Coalition, which already encompasses a sizable list of government and non-governmental stakeholders:

  • Trout Unlimited
  • Golden State Flycasters
  • The National Audubon Society
  • San Diego Coastkeeper
  • The Chaparral Lands Conservancy
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • US Fish & Wildlife Servidce
  • US Fisheries Service
  • The United States Marine Corps

CalTrout was one of 64 nonprofit recipients of Wells Fargo’s 2013 Environmental Solutions for Communities grant program, which was started in 2012 as part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to provide $100 million to environmentally-focused nonprofits and universities by 2020.

It is funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through a $15 million, five-year relationship to promote environmental stewardship across the country.

The SanDOC program is run by recent hire Roxanne Carter — an attorney with a real appreciation for steelhead and the ocean (look for an interview with Carter soon).

With so many pressures working against them (population, water diversions, barriers to migration, etc), endangered Southern California steelhead will require strategic and coordinated efforts if they’re ever going to recover — including the backing of a strong coalition.

We thank Wells Fargo and the National Fish & Wildlife Service for their support.

A CalTrout Interview: Southern California Regional Manager Kurt Zimmerman

Though he’s now CalTrout’s Southern California region manager, Kurt Zimmerman is a former federal prosecutor, and he clearly means business when it comes to protecting and restoring steelhead and other species.

Welcome to another in a series of interviews with CalTrout’s regional managers — the people on the front lines in the battle to protect California’s trout, steelhead and salmon. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself and your region.

SoCal Region Manager Kurt Zimmerman

SoCal Region Manager Kurt Zimmerman

I’m Kurt Zimmerman and I’m California Trout’s Southern California Regional Manager. My office is located in Ventura, and I grew up in Pasadena and Sierra Madre, so I’m no stranger to Southern California.

The Southern California region stretches from Santa Maria, California to Tijuana on the California/Mexico border. It supports 2/3 of the state’s population and it’s also the home of endangered Southern California steelhead.

In my former life, I was a federal prosecutor who worked to enforce environmental laws, both in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. I was also a natural resources attorney with NOAA where I provided legal oversight for restoration projects, including steelhead and salmon restoration.

What is the most critical problem facing fish in your region?

Mostly human impacts to Southern California’s native steelhead, especially dams and water diversions. Also, our enormous consumption of water has driven the Southern California steelhead to the edge of extinction; today, only about 500 adults remain.

In the past, about 50,000 steelhead occupied Southern California’s coastal streams and rivers.

The problem is that the steelhead are in trouble, but almost nobody down here knows about them. I think that’s a big issue — simple awareness. Most residents in the region have never seen a native trout or steelhead.

Still, I’m optimistic. CalTrout is taking a leadership role in the fight to restore Southern California steelhead with projects like removal of fish passage barriers.

For example, the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam’s fish ladder on the Santa Clara River looks like something from a Rube Goldberg nightmare; it’s not the most effective fish passage technology. We’re looking at what we can do to fix that.

We also oversee or support efforts to restore fish passage in other watersheds including the Ventura River, Zams Creek, Malibu Creek, San Juan Creek, San Mateo Creek and Santa Margarita River.

I’m optimistic we can make things happen, and while I doubt we’ll see the kind of numbers we once did in my lifetime, we can bring real steelhead runs back to Southern California.

Are Southern California Steelhead any different from those found elsewhere?

Yes. One of the long-term issues we’re facing is climate change; warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns will result in increased pressure on water supplies.

The Southern California Steelhead can survive much higher temperatures than the northern fish, and with climate change coming, that tolerance will prove useful.

It would be a shame for us to lose them right now when we needed them the most.

What’s your favorite place in your region to fish?

The Southern California steelhead is an endangered species, so you can’t fish for them here.

I will say the Kern River isn’t that far from Los Angeles, and it’s a beautiful place to fish for trout..

For families looking for a fishing experience, Lake Cuyamaca — near Julian, in the mountains north of San Diego — is a pretty place, too. It’s at elevation, so they can stock it year-round with trout. The fishing is usually pretty easy, which is important when you’ve got kids.