Fish ladder: River runs around it
By Jesse Phelps
Now that the permits are issued
and the debates about feasibility have drowned into the recesses,
the Casitas Municipal Water District is moving ahead rapidly
to provide passage for the endangered Southern California steelhead.
Thursday was the day when the hopes and wishes of trout-lovers
across the state were finally granted in physical action. At
a groundbreaking ceremony at the Robles Diversion Dam in the
Ventura River channel near Meiners Oaks, a mixture of environmentalists,
fishermen, construction workers, reporters and agency and district
representatives commingled to witness the seminal moment when
years of talk finally manifested.
Said Jim Edmondson, Southern California manager for California
Trout, a statewide conservation organization dedicated to wild
trout and steelhead protection, addressing the gathered throng,
"It's been said that the child of defeat is an orphan and
the child of success has many parents. Congratulations, parents."
Amid the myriad environmental benefits, he said, there is an
economic boon many people overlook when it comes to the steelhead.
Communities with thriving, ecologically sound river systems,
Edmondson said, tend to sport housing values, on average, $30,000
higher than those without.
He presented a mock check to the homeowners of Ventura County
worth $30,000, drawing chortles from a variety of the attendees.
Representatives from at least six different organizations and
several levels of government were in attendance to congratulate
Casitas on its willingness to take action and each other for
their various roles in the process.
According to California Trout estimates, less than 200 southern
steelhead individuals currently exist. Experts believe that the
Southern California steelhead could be the fish from which all
other steelhead originated, the progenitor of the entire species.
The passage at Robles will provide them access to the lower reaches
of the channel, up to the Matilija Dam. Fish advocates believe
the reintroduction of some of their original spawning grounds
could help boost the flagging population.
Jim Leckey, assistant regional administrator for protected resources
at the National Marine Fisheries Service, said he appreciate
the courage of the Casitas board for making the appropriate decision
to build the fish passage.
He said that the importance of that decision cannot be overestimated.
Quoting John Sawhill, former director of the Nature Conservancy,
Leckey said, "In the end, our society will be defined not
only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy."
Representatives from congressman Elton Gallegly's office and
assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson's office, as well as former
U.S. Rep. Bob Lagomarsino, all showed up to lend kudos to the
various movers and shakers on behalf of the steelhead.
Casitas Board president Chuck Bennett started off the proceedings
by comparing the joint effort of the involved agencies to a marriage,
one where they agreed to open their new home to hundreds of scaly
He gave a brief overview of the history of the project and asked
those in attendance to consider opening their pocketbooks to
help cover the estimated $9 million cost associated with the
fish passage, also called a ladder or a fishway.
The passage will allow adult steelhead to traverse the river
beyond Robles using a series of lifts during storm events. A
protective, self-cleaning screen will prevent adult and juvenile
fish from being sucked off down the pipeline to the lake.
But the focus Thursday was not on how the fishway will work but
on how it took the combined efforts of about as many people as
there are fish to make it a reality. Now, at long last, it appears
Said Edmondson, "This event signifies a new era for the
Ventura River and for endangered steelhead."
Meanwhile, in related news, the National Marine Fisheries Service
(NOAA Fisheries) and the California Department of Transportation
(Caltrans) entered into a cooperative agreement detailing a number
of actions that will be taken to limit the impact of state transportation
projects on the endangered steelhead in Ventura County.
Steelhead were allegedly harmed in a construction incident in
August of 1999 that took place before a proper biological survey
could take place.
While Caltrans has not conceded legal liability, it has "fully
cooperated with NOAA Fisheries in developing measures that will
provide greater protection" to the fish, said one NOAA Fisheries
As part of the agreement, NOAA Fisheries will train Caltrans
construction engineers who work in coastal districts on how to
comply with the Endangered Species Act.
Caltrans will also place a kiosk-style sign at two rest-stops
along Highway 33. Each sign will contain educational information
on the steelhead.
Caltrans will repair grade control weirs downstream of the Highway
150 bridge at Santa Paula Creek to help enhance steelhead migration.
Construction projects will also be scheduled so that projects
benefiting the fish will have top priority.
"This mutually beneficial agreement will help protect endangered
steelhead during construction on rivers, creeks and streams while
assisting Caltrans in meeting their requirements under the endangered
species Act," said William Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries.
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