Steelhead snarled in red tape
By Jesse Phelps
If steelhead trout find the Ventura River
increasingly hard to navigate, it appears they aren't having
any better luck finding help through the agencies charged with
Much of the recent talk has dealt with the amount of water needed
for the Robles Diversion fish ladder and various technical issues.
But in a letter sent from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Fisheries (formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service) acting
regional administrator Rodney R. McInnis to the Bureau of Reclamation
suggests the hang-up may be simple red
According to the letter, the latest delay can be traced to a
lack of response from Bureau of Reclamation regarding NOAA Fisheries'
final proposal for the operational procedures of the passage,
which was sent nearly 14 months ago.
In the letter, McInnis states, "NOAA Fisheries received
a Final Biological Assessment from Bureau of Reclamation on Nov.
20, 2001, which outlined proposed construction activities at
the Robles Diversion, as well as future operations aimed at facilitating
upstream and downstream steelhead migration. After a thorough
review, NOAA Fisheries communicated to BOR the inadequacies and
factual errors present within the biological assessment via a
letter dated Feb. 6, 2002."
Foremost among the inadequacies was the omission of a complete
project description, including an adequate operational scheme
for the facilities and an effects analysis for those "interrelated
and interdependent activities linked to the diversion."
John Johnson, CMWD's executive director, was unable to be reached
for comment and explanation of what activities are being referred
The biological assessment also did not include a project description
that ensured the adequate passage of fish, and lacked information
and analysis of actions and effects for Matilija Dam and Casitas
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Reclamation
and the Casitas Municipal Water District met several times over
the ensuing months. The Bureau of Reclamation proposed that the
inadequacies be addressed through three technical memorandums
on three topics: Fish ladder construction activities when river
flow is present in the project area; future monitoring and research;
and the interrelated and interdependent projects associated with
the Robles Diversion facility.
Following this, the Technical Advisory Group reconvened, made
up of NOAA Fisheries, California Department of Fish and Game,
and Bureau of Reclamation, and Casitas representatives. The group
was to determine outstanding issues regarding the perceived inadequacies
from the November 2000 final biological assessment. Following
agreement on operating the facility, the Bureau of Reclamation
was to submit the agreed upon operations to NOAA Fisheries to
begin the formal consultation process.
According to McInnis, NOAA Fisheries received the final technical
memorandum on Oct. 11, 2002, completing requests by NOAA Fisheries
in their February comments on the biological assessment. As a
result of the memoranda and further meetings of the Technical
Advisory Group, NOAA Fisheries formalized its preferred operational
scenario in a letter dated Oct. 28. 2002.
Now, says McInnis, NOAA Fisheries is still waiting for a response
from Bureau of Reclamation. In summation, he urges the bureau
to "finalize the proposed facility operations and submit
these as soon as possible" as Casitas stands to lose substantial
grant money for the fish passage.
Casitas board member Jim Coultas says that Casitas is also in
a holding pattern, waiting for NOAA Fisheries and the Bureau
of Reclamation to issue the order. "The Bureau is not real
prompt," he said. "My experience is that things take
a long time with them."
In addition, says Coultas, nobody can start work in the streambed
until the winter months are over, at least June. "There
are environmental concerns about working in the river,"
he said. But to keep the grants already allotted, Casitas needs
the process to be formalized as soon as possible.
Casitas has been unwilling to move forward without a mandate
from NOAA Fisheries, which, in turn, isn't forthcoming without
the Bureau of Reclamation's approval of the preferred operational
"It's all smoke and mirrors, said Russ Baggerly, president
of the Environmental Coalition of Ventura County. He points to
the ongoing public relations campaign by Casitas and that body's
contention that its bass fishery at the lake could be impacted
by the steelhead passage. "It's not going to kill the bass
fishery at Casitas," he said.
"The perception of most people, especially land owners,
is that the Environmental Species Act creates a burden. As soon
as we get the (steelhead) de-listed - and we have a prime possibility
to do that on the Ventura River and the Santa Clara River - the
sooner we can lift the burden of the Endangered Species Act,"
"This letter is the fish-or-cut bait letter. It's time to
take that responsibility."
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