Fishladder Modifications at Freeman Diversion to be Decided by Panel of Experts
California Trout and the United Water Conservation District have reached an agreement that holds considerable promise for the future of the Southern California Steelhead. There have been no records of successful upstream passage of an adult steelhead since the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam was built just downstream of Santa Paula in 1991. Recovery of this endangered fish is considered contingent on successful recovery of the Santa Clara River population. CalTrout, along with Friends of the Santa Clara River, are hopeful that this agreement will lead to steelhead recovery throughout its historic range, which covers coastal streams from the Santa Maria River southward to Baja California.
The agreement resolves a suit filed by CalTrout in January 2009. The agreement requires a panel of experts to work closely with United and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine the best options to ensure necessary fish passage for steelhead at the Diversion. The panel is to report no later than August 1, 2010, at which time United will begin to implement the recommendations to improve passage and establish a reasonable timeline for completing modifications to the facility.
"The settlement allows maximum flexibility for the use of the best possible solutions for the fish while meeting United's needs. By agreeing and adhering to focused timelines that achieve quick and meaningful protections for steelhead, CalTrout and United have an opportunity to work together productively to recover an iconic representative of our state's natural heritage," said Nica Knite, Southern California Regional Manager for CalTrout.
The Southern California Steelhead has been federally listed as endangered since 1997. Dams and other barriers can interfere with the steelhead's migration from freshwater mountain streams to the ocean and back unless appropriate fish passage is provided. These impediments to steelhead migration present one of the greatest threats to their continuing survival.
The panel of experts intends to perform multiple studies and tests to determine the effectiveness of the current fishladder at the Freeman Diversion and necessary modifications to provide passage for successful upstream migration.
Progress toward recovery of the Southern California steelhead remains a vital interest of Friends of the Santa Clara River. We will be watching closely as the panel proceeds in its deliberations over the next year or so, and are cautiously hopeful that this process will eventually lead to a successful solution to this thorny problem that has festered for well over a decade.