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Carpinteria Creek: A model for steelhead habitat restoration in southern California

This November, contractors removed the last of 11 major fish passage barriers in Carpinteria Creek of Santa Barbara County, California. This concludes over a decade of planning, implementing, and advocacy by South Coast Habitat Restoration (SCHR), and other state, federal and local partners. The NOAA Restoration Center provided funding and had a role in the planning and design for many of these projects.

Many of the barriers on the creek were located on privately-owned ranches that are active agriculture producers. “We had to do some basic education with these landowners about the importance of healthy creek habitat that functions as migration corridors and spawning grounds for endangered steelhead trout,” states Mauricio Gomez, Director of SCHR.

The most common barriers encountered were concrete low-flow crossings and undersized bridges that had been built in the early 1900s. These barriers constricted the natural flow of the creek. Parts of the stream below the barriers were also often channelized with concrete. This helped to reduce flooding, but blocked fish from moving upstream. Restoration at these sites included removing concrete barriers and installing larger bridges to continue providing access for landowners across the creek.

“Everyone is looking at the work that was done in this creek as a model for other similar projects in southern California,” said Eric Friedman, with the office of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

After the removal of this final barrier, six miles of spawning habitat is now available to steelhead trout.  The numbers of steelhead using creeks like this one in southern California varies from year to year based on the amount of rainfall.

What’s next for this creek? “We are hoping that this year’s El Niño event will bring lots of rain to fill up the creeks that have been dry all summer. Then we might see some steelhead!” says Gomez.

Posted December 22, 2015

This new bridge was installed in 2013. It allows for better stream flow on the creek and keeps access open to an operational ranch.