Questions and Answers
Casitas Municipal Water
District biologist Leo Lentsch and Keep the Sepse Wild director
Alasdair Coyne face off in a seris of questions.
Q. What exactly is the amount
of water required for the fish ladder, for how long and for when,
and why, or why not, does the amount create a problem for Casitas
Municipal Water District? What is the source for this amount?
The fish ladder would be operated during the steelhead's migratory
season (December to June). Its operation will be tied to the
natural fluctuation of flows in the river. The water required
is estimated by the National Marine Fisheries Services to vary
between 0 and 7,000 acre-feet per year, with a long-term average
of 2,000 acre-feet per year. This equals less than 10 percent
of the estimated safe yield, and less than 1 percent of the total
storage capacity of Lake Casitas.
The volume of water required for fish passage at the Robles Facility
is dependent upon whether or not the Ventura River Basin is experiencing
a wet period or a drought period.
The preliminary analysis by Casitas suggests that between 0 and
9,131 acre-feet per year (depending on the kind of water year)
could be required to satisfy NOAA Fisheries preferred operations
based on stream gauge records from 1945 to 1983.
Fish passage releases could create a water supply problem during
drought conditions. Based on a comparison with current operations,
and without effective water storage protection measures, fish
release operations could cause Lake Casitas to go dry.
Q: Besides the legal requirements
of the Endangered Species Act, why is it, or why is it not, important
to restore steelhead populations to the Ventura River watershed?
Ventura River steelhead are an important part of the natural
heritage of the Ojai Valley, and historically an important part
of the recreational experience of the Ventura River. Steelhead
are the single best indicator of the health of the Ventura River's
watershed. Their restoration will encourage the management of
the Ventura River system, from the headwaters to the coast, and
serve to knit together the common interests of the Ojai and Ventura
Congress specified that one of ESA's purposes was to provide
a means whereby the ecosystems, which species depend upon, may
be conserved. Therefore, restoration of an imperiled species
often involves restoring or maintaining ecosystem processes.
Humans are also dependent upon these same ecosystem processes.
Some examples of products from properly functioning ecosystems
include clean water, clean air, adequate water supplies, stable
wildlife populations, sandy beaches, and healthy forests. Restoration
of steelhead habitat in the Ventura River, regardless of legal
implications, could provide many benefits to local residents.
Q: Isn't the fish ladder a
moot point as long as Matilija Dam is still is place? Is it worth
spending $6.2 million on a fish ladder to open up a mere mile
or two of upstream habitat? Or is there a prime spawning ground
for steelhead in the other fork?
The fish ladder will immediately provide upstream access to prime
steelhead spawning habitat in the main Ventura River (one mile),
the mainstem Matilija Creek (one mile), and the North Fork of
Matilija Creek (six miles). By providing water downstream, the
fish ladder's operation will also improve approximately three
miles of spawning and rearing habitat in the lower Ventura River.
Providing steelhead access is essential to realizing the full
potential of the proposed removal of Matilija Dam.
Steelhead will benefit from having access to the Ventura River
above Robles, Matilija Creek, and North Fork of Matilija Creek
regardless of what happens to Matilija. Benefits derived from
operating the fish passage facility should be assessed in the
larger context of its importance to the recovery of Southern
California steelhead. Unfortunately, NOAA Fisheries has not completed
a recovery plan for this species. Without a recovery plan, it
is hard to assess whether or not the expenditure could be better
Q: If the fish ladder is built,
and steelhead populations continue to decline, what's the next
The fish ladder is only one of several elements that are being
considered for the restoration of Ventura River steelhead. Others
include removal of barriers in San Antonio Creek, acquisition
of river frontage (the Farmont property), removal of Matilija
Dam, control of non-point sources of pollution, and restoration
of the Ventura River estuary. A consortium of local agencies
is also preparing a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Ventura
ESA required NOAA Fisheries to evaluate five factors associated
with their determination of whether or not steelhead warranted
ESA protection. These factors include: 1) destruction, modification,
or curtailment of habitat or a species range; 2) overutilization;
3) disease or predation; 4) inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms,
and 5) other natural or man-made factors.Whether or not the species
continues to decline efforts should focus on all of these factors
to enhance the status of steelhead.
Q: When was the last survey
of steelhead populations done in the Ventura River?
A steelhead survey of the Ventura River and its tributaries was
performed by the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological
Survey in 2001. The Department of Fish and Game completed a survey
of the main stem in 1995. Earlier surveys of the Ventura River,
prior to the construction of Matilija and Casitas dams, indicated
annual steelhead runs of 5,000 to 6,000 fish. NMFS estimates
the current run at less than 250.
The number of steelhead currently using the Ventura River is
virtually unknown. Record searches by Entrix, Inc., at the California
Department of Fish and Game, and other sources, have been unable
to find any records of a steelhead population survey for the
Ventura River that uses standard fish population size estimation
techniques. In their status review of West coast steelhead, NOAA
Fisheries cited the number of fish in the river at less than
200 in 1994.
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