Watershead E-News, Summer 2012
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Ron Bottorff, Chair
Ginnie Bottorff, Editor

Newhall Ranch Water Decision Imminent
Press Release March 23, 2012

In an encouraging development for groups protecting the Santa Clara River, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, on June 7, rendered a decision that required Newhall Ranch to address shortcomings in various mitigation requirements and make improvements in areas affecting water quality before it can get a go-ahead from the board.

The Water Board cited concerns about the alternatives analysis that was done by the Army Corps of Engineers in selecting the Least Environmentally Damaging Practical Alternative. The extensive floodplain losses and filling of tributaries incorporated in the Newhall Ranch Project are not in line with the Regional Board's 2005 Hydromodification Resolution. Additionally, doubts were expressed about the manner in which mitigation measures will be funded, and whether there will be adequate monitoring of mitigation areas.

On August 7 the Board held a workshop in which Newhall and its several consultants gave the board detailed answers to many of its questions. Representatives from FSCR, Ventura Coastkeeper, Heal the Bay and SCOPE also spoke, in which we elaborated on our numerous remaining concerns about the project. The board will meet again on September 14 and may at that time approve its Waste Discharge Requirements for the project or deny approval pending further improvements to the project.

Sespe Creek Recovery is Evident After Wildfires

Mark Capelli, Southern California Coast Steelhead Recovery Coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hiked down the Sespe Gorge in June. His email photographs and comments on the recovery of Sespe Creek and its wildlife, after some devastating wildfires in Los Padres National Forest, bear so centrally on understanding the ecology of this vital stream that they are repeated here verbatim in what follows, with only minor omissions.

"Had a chance to get down the Sespe Gorge a couple of weeks ago. The system is rapidly rejuvenating following the recent fires and associated heavy sedimentation. It's been instructive to watch the evolution of habitats during this period: immediately before the fire the Sespe Gorge was dominated by large deep pools with interspersed rocky areas, with relatively little sediment, and even less vegetation;

following the fire, almost all of the pools and reaches in-between became filled with sediment (with a huge drop in the fish fauna, both native and non-native); this year, after 5 years of re-distribution and flushing of sediments there is a complex mix of shallow and deep pools, most of which have substantial gravel tail-outs and point bars, with riparian and aquatic vegetation very abundant. The O. mykiss (southern steelhead) population has bounced back to levels I have not seen for quite a few years, as well as other wildlife species.

While the trout population in the Sespe dropped dramatically following the massive influx of sediment, there remained a few scattered fish, and when conditions began to improve (actually creating ideal conditions for spawning and invertebrate production), the population jumped back up. Last year, I saw only a couple of trout in a four day trip through the mainstem (doubtless there were others I didn't observe), but this year, I saw dozens in every hole, and several very large fish (16-18 inches) which indicates there was abundant food (other smaller fish, not just insects) upon which to feed.

Really illustrates the dynamic nature of these systems, and the important role of fire, floods, and especially sediment, in maintaining a complex of habitats which forms the basis of the biodiversity and
over-all productivity of these systems."

Steelhead Recovery Plan Priorities

The Southern Steelhead Recovery Plan depicts the Monte Arido Highlands Biogeographic Population Group as encompassing four medium to large coastal watersheds and eight sub-watersheds that drain the western half of the Transverse Range in Southern San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and eastern Los Angeles Counties. This includes the Santa Clara watershed.

The Plan lists several high-level threats to recovery of the Santa Clara River watershed steelhead population including dams and water diversions, groundwater extraction, agricultural development, urban development, levees and channelization, flood control facilities and wildfires. The full recovery plan can be downloaded from the National Marine Fisheries Service Recovery Planning website: http://nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/recovery/plans.htm.

We have reported in past newsletters on efforts by FSCR to help address two major problems in our watershed relating to steelhead recovery. These are: (1) provide stakeholder input, including consultant studies, to the United Water Conservation District in development of its Habitat Conservation Plan, centered around steelhead, that is currently focused on studies for improved steelhead passage around the Freeman Diversion and Santa Felicia dams; and (2) provide input to federal and State agencies, as well as the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, including consultant studies, that support the development and implementation of plans to physically modify the lower Santa Paula creek flood control channel to allow natural rates of migration of both adult and juvenile steelhead.

Both of these efforts, which will play out over a multiple-year time span, are continuing. United is currently engaged in studies that will define the foundation and dimensions of a hardened rock ramp for placement within the dam that would allow for natural steelhead passage. This process will involve both mathematical and physical modeling and is expected to take about two years. Stay tuned!


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