A 30-inch adult steelhead trout in Mission Creek photographed in 2008.

The Santa Barbara City Council accepted a $300,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy to help build a 0.8-mile “fishway” to enable steelhead trout — a federally endangered fish once plentiful on the South Coast — to get up Mission Creek and safely past the wall-to-wall concrete flood-control channel built by Caltrans between Canon Perdido and Arrellaga streets. When construction is complete, the steelhead will have been provided a total of 1.1 miles of fishway, enabling them to reach prime spawning ground two miles above the mouth of the creek.

The point of the fishway is to reduce the speed and expand the depth of waters running down Mission Creek during winter storms, the fish’s spawning season. This is achieved by reducing the floor of the concrete channels by three feet, creating in the process a split-level effect four feet wide. The fishway also provides resting places for the steelhead every 50 feet, as well as “speed bumps” engineered to slow the water’s velocity even further. “We don’t want the fish getting upstream and then grinding their noses on the concrete. It stops them every time,” said city creeks czar Cameron Benson.

While Mission Creek once boasted prolific steelhead populations, it no longer does. In the past 10 years, Benson said, seven adult steelhead have been counted below the channel trying to swim up the creek. More recently, he said, 15-20 juveniles were counted in the creek’s lagoon, preparing for their journey out to sea. The project was originally budgeted at $4.2 million, Benson said, but it’s coming in nearly $700,000 less than that. Of the $3.3 million the project will cost to build, he said $500,000 came from the pool of city bed taxes set aside specifically for creek restoration. The rest, he said, came from matching grants.


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