Update on Steelhead
After years of negotiation, CalTrout filed a lawsuit in federal court on January 14, 2009 against the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and United Water Conservation District (United), claiming that both agencies are continuing to endanger the southern steelhead by refusing to comply with the Endangered Species Act. This is with respect to the inadequate fish passage facilities at the Freeman Diversion Dam at the Santa Clara River near Santa Paula, where adult steelhead are blocked by the dam from accessing their historic spawning grounds upstream. The lawsuit was filed after many years during which United consistently delayed and argued against improvements to the existing fish passage facility at the dam.
The southern steelhead was originally listed as a federally endangered species in 1997, which led United and the Bureau to begin the consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that eventually resulted in the publication of a final Biological Opinion (BiOp) by NMFS in July 2008. This document showed that the existing fish ladder facility cannot work for steelhead upstream passage and that a new facility must be designed and built.
United has belatedly established a panel of fish passage experts but this panel has been given the task of how best to improve the existing facility rather than come up with a new design that will work for adult steelhead as required by the BiOp. Thus, Caltrout decided it had no recourse except to sue to force compliance with the BiOp and the Endangered Species Act.
Caltrout also filed for an injunction requiring United to make provisions for the current steelhead migration season, which normally runs from December through March when large storms create river flows adequate for steelhead passage. The judge in the case has strongly urged all parties to attempt to mediate a plan for interim operations at the facility.