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New Bridge Opens Up River for Fish and Hikers

Giving fish access to upstream habitat doesn’t just help fish—it can benefit people, too. At our fish passage project in Ojai, California, we helped build a bridge so that fish, like endangered Southern California steelhead trout, could reach 15 miles of habitat upstream.  The bridge also improved public safety at a popular recreational and commuter trail.

The Ojai Valley Trail is a 9.5-mile path along the scenic Ventura River used by bikers, equestrians, and outdoor enthusiasts. At the trail’s crossing at San Antonio Creek, an aging concrete structure had long impacted migration of endangered southern California steelhead trout. In heavy storm years, the vents that normally allow water to pass under the crossing would get clogged with dirt and debris. This prevented fish from reaching some of the best remaining spawning and rearing habitat in the entire Ventura River Watershed.

Heavy rains would also often flood the site and render the crossing dangerous.  People on the trail were forced make a choice between braving swift waters at the crossing, or detouring onto a busy, winding mountain highway nearby. They were also rerouted as the county conducted expensive maintenance to remove sediment or fix washed-out sections of the trail.

To improve both fish passage and public safety, NOAA and partners—including American Rivers and the California Coastal Conservancy—removed the concrete crossing and replaced it with an elevated 480-foot bridge. The new bridge raises the trail above the 100-year flood level and allows the river, its sediments, and fish to move naturally below.  It also allows bikers and hikers to cross the river safely, while reducing maintenance costs for the county.

Posted March 19,2012

Flooding at the crossing before the restoration project.