Santa Clara River Restoration

A Watershed with Exceptional Spawning Habitat

The Santa Clara River near Ventura represents one of the most valuable watershed systems for restoring endangered Southern California steelhead populations – in fact, it’s considered a stronghold watershed under the North American Salmon Stronghold Partnership. There is exceptional spawning habitat in the Sespe Creek (a large tributary) with only one barrier between the Creek and the Pacific Ocean and in Santa Paula Creek (another large tributary). But, there are issues. United Water Conservation District (the river’s largest water manager) diverts river flows at facilities such as the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam and the Santa Felicia Dam to meet agricultural and community water demands.

Such dams are fish passage barriers that deny fish access to historic spawning grounds and/or restrict flows blocking upstream return migration of adult fish and downstream out-migration of juveniles. CalTrout sued United Water in 2008, alleging violations of the federal Endangered Species Act in connection with the operation of the Vern Freeman Diversion. That lawsuit was settled on terms favorable to the steelhead including the creation of a fish panel that studied and recommended fish passage alternatives (including a hardened fish ramp).

Conservation Goals

  • Provide fish passage to historic spawning / rearing habitat on the Santa Clara River and its major tributaries.
  • Enhance habitat to promote increase in steelhead population.

Recent Accomplishments

  • Currently working with United Water and resource agencies to implement a fish passage solution at the Vern Freeman Diversion and the Santa Felicia Dam.
  • With funding from the Ventura Coastkeeper, studied the effects of sediment transport following the hypothetical removal of the Vern Freeman Diversion – a study, which will inform restoration activities in the watershed for many years to come.
  • Laid additional groundwork for the successful completion of other restoration opportunities in the Santa Clara watershed.
  • In 2012, hired Candice Meneghin as a Coalition Coordinator. Before joining CalTrout, Candice worked on steelhead monitoring and restoration projects in Malibu Lagoon and Topanga Creek. Candice hales from South Africa where she served as a regional coordinator of ecological projects to promote integrated watershed management.
  • Under Candice’s energetic leadership, formed the first ever Santa Clara River Watershed Steelhead Coalition (Santa Clara Coalition). In addition to CalTrout, the Santa Clara Coalition’s Members include: The Nature Conservancy, Ventura Coastkeeper/WishToyo Foundation, the Santa Clara River Conservancy, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Keep the Sespe Wild and Stoecker Ecological.

What We Will Accomplish in 2013-14

  • Seek funding through the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Fisheries Restoration Grants Program to fund the following steelhead restoration identified by the Coalition:
    – The Harvey Diversion Dam: This project would elevate the creek bed in Santa Paula Creek to restore fish passage via a fish ladder at this water diversion. In the second phase of the project, the diversion would be notched to create a natural appearing fish channel that will facilitate fish passage without the need for a fish ladder.
    – Watershed Monitoring Plan: This project is a wide-ranging monitoring program that will serve to identify the number, size, age and location of the steelhead throughout sections of Santa Clara River and its major tributaries. This data is critical and will inform all future restoration activities in the watershed.

Key Partners: Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition: The Nature Conservancy, Ventura Coastkeeper/Wishtoyo Foundation, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Keep the Sespe Wild, Santa Clara River Conservancy, Stoecker Ecological

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