The Santa Ynez River once held the largest steelhead trout run in Southern California, with tens of thousands of fish, making fishing an integral part of life along the river. Since Bradbury Dam was completed in 1953, the Bureau of Reclamation’s improper management, combined with the steelheads’ lack of access to upstream spawning habitat crucial to their survival, has caused their population to decrease by 99 percent.
Numerous measures to help restore endangered steelhead have been suggested, including fish passage and eminently feasible water conservation measures that can both save fish and maintain domestic water supplies. But the Bureau of Reclamation has continued to be unyielding — failing to pursue the simplest of solutions to protect the fish. The Bureau has failed the fish yet again — over the past year at least 376 fish have died due to the agency’s failure to fix faulty pump equipment that waters Hilton Creek, a tributary of the river located directly below the dam. The repeated failure of the Bureau to properly maintain this equipment is indicative of its long-standing poor management of the river and dam.
The Environmental Defense Center (EDC), on behalf of CalTrout, intends to sue the Bureau for its failures at Hilton Creek, which although a far cry from the upstream habitat blocked by the dam, at this point it is an essential part of the steelheads’ life-support system. Hopefully the threatened lawsuit will force the Bureau of Reclamation to fulfill its responsibilities to protect these fish that are such an important part of the river’s history.