A young steelhead trout

Paul Wellman (file)

A young steelhead trout

70 Endangered Steelhead Killed During Power Outage

Backup Generators for Cachuma Lake Pumps Failed

Friday, June 28, 2013
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At least 70 endangered steelhead trout were killed last Sunday when backup generators failed to restart Lake Cachuma water pumps affected by a widespread PG&E power outage across the Central Coast. The two electric pumps operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation feed water into Hilton Creek — a tributary of the Santa Ynez River — when lake levels are low, as they are right now. They were activated for the first time last year when the creek was similarly dry.

Of the 70 young fish that died, 60 were less than three inches long and 10 were between three and 12 inches. Adult steelhead reach up to 36 inches in length. One of six Pacific trout species, steelhead spend most of their lives out at sea but return to fresh water to spawn. Their offspring, called smolts, typically remain in fresh water for about a year before heading to the ocean.

Steelhead were listed as an endangered species in 1997 and have been the subject of many multimillion-dollar recovery efforts throughout Southern California in recent years. Before Bradbury Dam was built across the Santa Ynez River in 1953 to create Lake Cachuma, it wasn’t unusual to see some 20,000 mature fish running up and down the river to spawn. Nowadays, according NOAA Fisheries officials, the number of observed steelhead has dropped to 0-20 adults per year.

Power to the Hilton Creek pumps — and approximately 150,000 other PG&E customers — was cut at around 9:30 p.m. due to a “flash” at a Morro Bay substation. According to Lynnette Wirth with the Bureau of Reclamation, backup generators activated as expected but the pumps failed to restart. Reclamation and Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board (COMB) staff restored water to the creek around seven hours later and notified the appropriate agencies about the incident, Wirth said.

Pete Lucero, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation, said the pumps are designed to funnel 6-8 cubic feet of water into Hilton Creek every second. “When the pumps are running, they are greased, oiled, and adjusting weekly,” he said. “Otherwise, they are checked annually.” It’s not clear how long they had been on before the outage took place.

Janet Gingras, COMB’s interim general manager, said in an emailed statement, “If the Bureau’s facility disruption caused harm to any fish, we at the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board (COMB) are devastated. We have spoken with representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation and are confident that the Bureau will be making every effort to reduce the likelihood of this type of incident in the future.”

For its part, the law enforcement arm of NOAA issued this statement through spokesperson John Thibodeau: “We appreciate [the Bureau of Reclamation] notifying us about the power interruption that caused a loss of fish. Our Fisheries enforcement office is investigating the incident, which is normal protocol when threatened or endangered fish are taken,” he said. “I can’t go into more detail at this time.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Really, really sad....

at_large (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 10:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I wish it were explained why the pump failure had any impact at all on the fish. Most people don't know the innerworkings of the fishery up there.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 2:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I' ve said it before and I'll keep saying it till people finaly understand: "Steelhead" is a way of life not a species - the species is O. Mykiss, AKA a Rainbow trout - when found in any landlocked fresh body of water, they are legal to catch and eat with a valid fishing license. A real endangered species "taking" would subject any guilty party to a $5,000 fine and jailtime, license or no.

This "article" is nothing more than propaganda. (Most likely intended to support eventual water rationing to "save" a species that is in no way endangered!)

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 5:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think I would believe NOAA more than any claims without any cited references.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 8:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Look, I really don't care what some NOAA website says - this is the same government that's been lying to us for years about the extent of it's unconstitutional spying - but you're free to believe whatever you want.

And I'm not going to cherry pick some site to "cite" - google "southern california steelhead recovery plan". The Federal Marine Fisheries Management service freely admits in several online publications (and there are many independant sites that confirm) that the Rainbow trout and "Steelhead" are genetically identical. It's also common Knowledge that offspring of rainbow trout may or may not decide to migrate to the ocean and the same applies to Steelhead - there is NO difference between the two fish - some of them simply decide to spend part of their life in the ocean.

There is NO requirement to spend time in the ocean - Rainbows can reproduce generation after generation in a landlocked lake. End of story.

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 9:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Really scientific analysis, on every topic (sarcasm). Believing what you want will not lead you to the truth - but then not everyone is a truth-seeker.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 9:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)


spiritwalker isn't a truth seeker he is a "Jack of all trade, master of none"... This individual knows so much about nothing it's comical...

Funny how everything is a conspiracy to him/her...

Priceless (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 6:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Why make yourself crazy?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 7:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Breeders matter much more than juvs, which mostly get plowed back into the food chain anyway.

The species may not be factually endangered, but there's romance and drama in having ocean-going fish powering up the creeks, through areas heavily populated by humans. Better to have charismatic steelheads protected, from a PR standpoint, than to add icky invertebrates to the Endangered Species list. Environmental advocacy organizations seem to overlook blowback, hazardously. (Remember Reagan's if-you've-seen-one-redwood, the Sagebrush Rebellion, James Watts' assassination of Woodsy the Owl, etc.) The overall cause of conservation depends on public support. Thems be my sophomoric opinions on the matter, anyway.

Adonis_Tate (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 7:27 a.m. (Suggest removal)

All of you who bemoan the loss of steelhead should remember that Bradbury dam was built to stop the flow of the Santa Ynez River to the Ocean and divert its water to South County where, at least in the City of Santa Barbara, over 50% of that water is used for irrigating landscaping. So you've traded 20,000 trout for lawns and mostly non-native flowers. The only realistic solution is to remove the dam - and none of you want to give up the water. (Trout ladders aren't a realistic solution. They would cost a huge amount of money that could better be used for, you name it: universal pre-school, re-hab services, crime-prevention programs, or, for those of you who don't like taxes, personal expenditures.)

valleyfarmer (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 1:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

For interesrting history on this and other local tidbits, I highly recommend California Editor by T. J. Storke - he openly brags that without the money and clout of the super rich in Montecito, Bradbury dam never would've been built.

He also makes clear that the biolgist who declared the Santa Ynez Steelhead "extinct", was more or less ordered not to find any when he surveyed the river prior to approval of the dam.

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 3:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Lawns are so 20th century

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

the bulldozer in the garden.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 5:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I just want to know who gets the Bill for killing all those little fishy's. the People of California or the Power Company for the outage?

dou4now (anonymous profile)
July 1, 2013 at 6:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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