Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition

Leading groups and stakeholders in promoting steelhead recovery

Water Talks Series: February through June 2017

The Water Talks program is an ongoing series of educational events designed to provide people a place to learn about water-related topics. The program goal is to increase informed participation in water management policy decisions by providing a place for community members to interact with experts who have a diverse range of perspectives and to develop common understanding.  Water Talks is a program of the Santa Clara Steelhead Coalition led by California Trout.

Learn more about Water Talks and see the schedule.

Long-term Goals:

  • Provide fish passage to historic spawning and rearing habitat on the Santa Clara River and its major tributaries;
  • Promote conservation stewardship and steelhead awareness in the local community, through an array of community engagement opportunities;
  • Address other threats to steelhead recovery including invasive species and climate change.

Recent Accomplishments:

  • Received CalTrout’s first National Forest Foundation grant for
    approximately $20,000 to match the existing $215,000 from the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fisheries Restoration Grant Program (FRGP) for the continuation and expansion of the Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition through May 30, 2017;
  • Assisted Friends of the Santa Clara River in securing a $51,916 FRGP grant to complete an alternatives assessment to replace a critical fish passage barrier on Santa Paula Creek and restore access to the most productive habitat in the entire stronghold;
  • Submitted grant proposal to the NFWF Los Padres National Forest Zaca and Piru Fries Restoration Grant Program for a project to control invasive species on Sespe Creek and restore and increase the resiliency of Southern California steelhead following the Piru Fire project. This would address an immediate threat in the headwaters of the watershed;
  • Supported Wishtoyo Foundation and their Ventura Coastkeeper
    Chapter in completion of their Santa Clara River Estuary Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Feasibility and Design Study project which will explore the feasibility of expanding and enhancing estuarine habitat for steelhead and other native and protected species by restoring approximately 15 to 35 acres of the Santa Clara River Estuary to lagoon, side channel, contiguous wetland, and/or additional upland riparian habitat within the space currently occupied by the McGrath State Beach Campground;
  • Participated and/or hosted in a number of community engagement events: Steelhead Science for Anglers at the Aquarium of the Pacific, 31st International Coastal Cleanup Day 2015, Patagonia Great Pacific Iron Works 22nd Annual Salmon Run, and presented at the Caltrans Road Ecology Meeting;
  • Compiled an OpEd article for the Ventura County Star highlighting World Fish Migration Day and the fish passage restoration projects the coalition is working on.

What We Will Achieve in 2016-17:

  • Support Wishtoyo Foundation and their Ventura Coastkeeper Chapter in their partnership with CA State Parks to effectively implement restoration in part of the Santa Clara River Estuary. This is an immediate life cycle need for steelhead while a longer term strategy for the estuary is pursued;
  • Support Friends of the Santa Clara River with the Sisar Creek Arizona Crossing Replacement Design Alternatives Analysis and implementation and pursue additional fish passage projects prioritized in the Coalition Workplan 2015-2017;
  • Lead the development and implementation of a Southern Steelhead Monitoring Program for the watershed;
  • Lead and/or partner on non-native aquatic and plant species management strategies;
  • Negotiate for cost-effective and feasible alternatives addressing notching of Vern Freeman Diversion, and promote deliberate speed for implementation that ensures passage;
  • Continue to engage the local community in a dialogue around water, steelhead, and stewardship, particularly by implementing a Water Talks Program of six featured talks throughout the watershed;
  • Grow and strengthen the Coalition membership as well as participation;
  • Continue to engage 10+ state and federal agencies, NGOs, Tribal Nations and other stakeholders of the Santa Clara River Coalition in the recovery of endangered Southern California steelhead.


The Santa Clara River watershed drains an enormous area (over 1600 sq. mi) and provides a biologically diverse area that sustains multiple, federally listed species including the endangered Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The watershed also supports valuable agricultural resources/livelihoods and provides water for commercial and residential consumers in cities located in Ventura and Los Angeles counties including Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Paula and Fillmore.

The entire Santa Clara River Watershed has experienced significant ecological degradation primarily from human impacts including flood control; water storage and diversion; the introduction of invasive alien plants and fish; expanding agriculture and urbanization; pollution; over-extraction of water; over-exploitation of specific species and soil erosion.

Unlike most other basins in southern California, the Santa Clara River continues to produce steelhead smolts, as evidenced by annual trapping results at United Water Conservation District’s Vern Freeman Diversion Dam. Recent, current, and proposed efforts to improve passage of adult steelhead at Vern Freeman Diversion Dam, the Army Corps of Engineers and Harvey Diversion Dam fish ladders, and evaluation of passage opportunities over Santa Felicia Dam are expected to help increase returns of adult steelhead to Santa Clara River tributaries. Improvements in stream flow releases in lower Piru Creek are also anticipated to result in enhanced production of steelhead.

Because of the large expanse of high quality and pristine habitat in upstream reaches; Santa Clara River watershed have significant potential to help recover the Southern California Steelhead Distinct Population Segment, as described in the National Marine Fisheries Service Recovery Plan – in fact, it’s also considered a Core 1 populations and stronghold watershed under the North American Salmon Stronghold Partnership.

In 2012, California Trout became the recipient of two Coalition grants from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fisheries Restoration Grant Program. One grant funds the activities of South Coast Steelhead Coalition which is focused on steelhead restoration in San Diego and Orange County. The other grant funds the activities of the Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition, which is across the Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

The Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition (Coalition) currently serves as a vehicle for coordination among agency programs and private sector activities across jurisdictions to target high priority projects, and to improve the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of Southern California steelhead recovery in the Santa Clara River watershed. The Coalition is also exploring opportunities to secure and provide funding for steelhead restoration projects and extensive public engagement and outreach.

By combining the experience and knowledge from a broad spectrum of fish passage improvement, biodiversity and water conservation proponents and projects, Coalition members are able to work more efficiently and in a highly coordinated fashion to identify and remedy technical and procedural obstacles as they arise.

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California Trout, Inc.

California Trout, Inc.