The State Water Resources Control Board recently adopted an order to protect the endangered steelhead trout population and downstream senior water right holders for Cachuma Reservoir in Santa Barbara County. This important Order will help restore the Santa Ynez River watershed for wildlife, recreation, and other uses. CalTrout has been engaged in this project since 1990 and has offered expertise and guidance to support the recovery of southern steelhead populations by reconnecting their historic habitat and ensuring that management of the river meets public trust requirements.
“This order is an important step towards improving the condition of a struggling species, while continuing to develop the science and information needed to return the species to sustainable levels,” said State Water Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel. “I am hopeful that adoption of this order will inspire the parties to continue working collaboratively to resolve these long-standing water management challenges – challenges not unlike those found in other communities and watersheds throughout the state.”
The Order requires the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to increase flows on the Santa Ynez River below Bradbury Dam to provide additional habitat for steelhead and prevent its extinction. To minimize impacts on local water users, higher flows will be required only during wetter years. The Board adopted a significant Order requiring improved water flows and critical studies to benefit endangered steelhead such as the potential for fish passage over the Dam and other improvements to habitat.
“Southern California steelhead are critically endangered – once a steelhead stronghold, the Santa Ynez River population of steelhead plummeted after Bradbury Dam was constructed. We are optimistic that today’s Order will help restore the species,” said Russell Marlow, CalTrout’s South Coast Project Manager.
Historically, the Santa Ynez River was a major spawning ground and nursery stream that supported the largest steelhead run in Southern California. Damming the river in 1953 stored runoff for the Santa Barbara area, but blocked off crucial spawning and rearing habitat and reduced the average annual run from 20,000 adult fish to fewer than 100 today.
Similar to salmon, steelhead trout spend much of their life in the sea before returning to the place of birth in a freshwater stream to spawn. Southern California steelhead, which includes the population of the Santa Ynez River, have been federally listed as an endangered species since 1997 and are on the brink of extinction.
According to the order, the Bureau of Reclamation is also required to:
- Study the effects of the increased flows on southern steelhead
- Consider additional measures to replenish the steelhead population
- Explore the potential for fish passage around the dam to provide access to additional habitat and present the findings within 24 month