Last week, 200 federally endangered steelhead trout were killed when a water pump operated by the Bureau of Reclamation — the federal agency that owns Lake Cachuma — malfunctioned. It was the 11th such breakdown this year, leading to the deaths of 376 total fish. In the latest episode, the pump feeding water to a 3,000-foot stretch of Hilton Creek broke, effectively cutting off the trickle of water sent downstream from Bradbury Dam. It turns out that legal notice, drafted by Environmental Defense Center attorney Nicole Di Camillo, had been prepared before the latest malfunction.
The Bureau of Reclamation bears the legal responsibility of keeping Hilton Creek wet enough to sustain a healthy population of steelhead to help offset the abiding damage done to fish populations by the construction of Lake Cachuma. To this end, it maintains two pumps, one of which has been broken for most of the last year. Efforts to replace it have been dogged by continuous delays due to project description errors that required the bureau to start its bidding process over. This past week, the backup pump went on the fritz, causing the 200 most recent fish deaths. Employees with the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board (COMB) spent much of last week trying to save as many steelhead as they could. COMB manager Randall Ward has been frustrated with how slow the bureau has been to respond.
On April 4, he became enraged to discover that the bureau halted the delivery of desperately needed state water into Lake Cachuma — during the height of a drought — because so doing interfered with the bureau’s latest stop-gap measure to get water to the fish. Bureau spokesperson Wilbert Louis Moore stated that his agency began trucking water to Hilton Creek last Friday, not to mention placing two aerators in the creek’s two largest pools to prevent them from becoming stagnant. Moore added the bureau is attempting “to permanently fix the pump problem” but said he could not comment further because of the threatened litigation.