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.”