Tag: Southern California Steelhead

Malibu’s steelhead habitat restoration ramps up with new money

AT MORE THAN 8,000 acres, Malibu Creek State Park includes the old “M.A.S.H.” television set and the Reagan Ranch. (Credit: Jim Burns)

Malibu’s Las Virgenes Water District was in the news last summer because of gross home watering overuse by celebrities such as Kim Kardasian, Kevin Hart and Sylvester Stallone. But in the shadow of the rich and famous of Calabasas and Lost Hills, conservationist Debbie Sharpton has quietly and insistently been preparing for the return of the endangered Southern California Steelhead, which means first ridding the watershed of persistent invasive species. 

CONSERVATIONIST Debbie Sharpton at Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park. (Credit: Jim Burns)

One of her prime targets is the invasive red swamp crayfish, better suited to a crayfish boil in New Orleans than in Santa Monica Mountain streams, yet here they are. Sharpton’s current efforts are aimed at eradication of the crayfish, which can devastate native wildlife, including the already threatened California red-legged frog. Crayfish directly compete for resources that native Arroyo Chub, and one day steelhead, need to survive. Other invasives for Sharpton include carp, bass and catfish.

Each month, Sharpton directs removal of these small creatures through baited traps that look like funnels and simulate crayfish burrows. Once inside, a crayfish can’t escape until it is removed by gloved volunteers, it’s fate to become bait for the next round of the trap checking.

As I stand in the low-flowing waters of Tapia Creek assisting young college volunteers to check crayfish traps, I can’t see the remnants of the “M.A.S.H.” television show production set, nor the Reagan Ranch. My focused attention is on not getting my fingers snapped by wary crayfish claws. As we slowly move upstream, our Home Depot bucket is full of writhing crustaceans, along with large mouth bass fry, tiny catfish, stinging spines intact, and juvenile carp. 

“Basically, we go in teams of two, so you have the lead trapper and an assistant trapper,” Allison Linsey says.” “As the trapper, you’re the one who kind of makes the decisions, you decide when traps need to be replaced or taken out. You’re also responsible for entering all the data we collect.”

The traps dot much of the riparian areas of Malibu Creek State Park. Stream areas are divided up into sections, with each section’s traps checked at least every three days. That puts these teams in the water for several shifts per week. 

INSIDE Malibu Creek State Park, a trapping team gets ready to move into another section. (Credit: Debbie Sharpton)

“We start around 8:30 in the morning,” says another volunteer, Amanda Chi.” Then maybe we would end around noon. At first, it was surreal to because it’s my first time doing fieldwork. But just being in the river early in the morning. It was really beautiful.”

Volunteers also include fly-fishers who are committed to conservation. Tools of the trade on any given day might be a fly rod for “catch and take” fishing, seine netting, which forms a barrier across a stream and scoops up its inhabitants (not as easy as it sounds …), and those crayfish traps. 

Financial and technical support for the project comes from California State Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the National Park Service, Santa Monica Mountains.

While this slow work may seem akin to David battling Goliath, further south the San Diego Regional Water Board may significantly up the ante in the fight to rid California streams of invasive pests. If passed into law this spring, invasive species would join mercury, lead and other toxics under Section 303 (d) of the Clean Water Act. The plan would enable collaborative watershed planning and restoration activities to be eligible for state and federal funding. 

“I’d like to lobby the L.A. Regional Water Board to move on getting Malibu Creek a TMDL for non-native aquatic species,” Sharpton says.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Council of Fly Fishing International, where Sharpton is the Vice President of Conservation, has received a donation of $5,000 from Sierra Pacific Flyfishers to begin a new conservation program called “Fishing for Conservation: Steelhead Recovery in Malibu Creek.” It will commence this spring after the frogs finish breeding. 

Her years-long conservation efforts, first as Executive Director of Mountains Restoration Trust and now with Environmental Restoration Group, LLC, have reached an inflection point with the anticipated downing of the Malibu’s Rindge Dam. Some two and a half miles from the coast, the dam stops the natural steelhead route from the Santa Monica Bay to Malibu lagoon, inland to spawn.

Built in the 1920s, Rindge was decommissioned in 1967, yet still stands. It is actually part of Malibu Creek State Park, the 8,215-acre gem that includes remnants of the “M.A.S.H” television set, as well as the Reagan Ranch. 

Vistas truly earn the moniker of “breathtaking,” with one peak that soars more than 2,700 feet. California Department of State Parks owns and manages the dam, as well as the park.

For Sharpton, all of this natural beauty includes the flora and fauna that rightfully belong here — and excludes those that don’t. 

“I’m hoping to engage the lake managers by assisting them to reduce the amount of unwanted non-native fish in their waters.  I don’t know the source population, it may be people moving fish for recreational fishing, it may be storm overflows moving the fish downstream,” Sharpton says. 

An Urgent Appeal to the SoCal Fishing Community to Save Arroyo Seco Trout

This small rainbow was caught last year before the Bobcat Fire destroyed the West Fork, closing it into 2022. Several hundred rainbows were transported to the Arroyo Seco for safekeeping. With water levels already very low, this is no time to divert more water for use by the City of Pasadena. (Credit Jim Burns)

UPDATE: The Pasadena City Council hearing has been continued until Monday, July 19, 4:30 p.m.

From Tim Brick, Arroyo Seco Foundation:

We need your help to save Arroyo Seco trout now!

The Arroyo Seco Foundation is working to restore conditions for steelhead in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains. Yes, steelhead – the anadromous form of Coastal Rainbow Trout. We are collaborating with a variety of agencies and organizations on the LA River Fish Passage Program in downtown Los Angeles and on an assessment of watershed conditions in the mountainous reaches of the Arroyo Seco.

Pasadena has prepared an Environmental Impact Report on the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project (ASCP), which will increase water diversions from the Arroyo Seco stream, a major tributary of the Los Angeles River system that is critical to steelhead recovery prospects. ASCP will build a new five-foot dam and diversion facility to divert additional water from the Arroyo Seco stream for domestic use by the Pasadena Water & Power Department (PWP).

The National Marine Fisheries Service has declared the Southern California steelhead an endangered species and prepared a steelhead recovery plan that includes the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River.

The goal of this recovery plan is to prevent the extinction of southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the wild and to ensure the long‐term persistence of viable, self‐sustaining, populations of steelhead distributed across the Southern California Distinct Population Segment (DPS). It is also the goal of this recovery plan to re‐ establish a sustainable southern California steelhead sport fishery.

While the Arroyo Seco was once home to a thriving population of rainbow trout and steelhead, steelhead have been blocked since 1920 from returning to their mountain home in the Angeles National Forest. Native Rainbow Trout have been present since then in the Arroyo Seco, although the Station Fire and the extended drought of recent years have made conditions difficult for those fish.

Based on survey techniques described by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as inadequate, Pasadena’s ASCP EIR states that there are no fish in the Arroyo. Pasadena’s projections for water availability are based on historical weather and streamflow patterns and do not consider the likely impact of climate change. The design of the new dam and diversion structure do not provide for two-way fish passage around or through those facilities nor for an environmental flow to protect the fish and aquatic species during dry periods as required by CA Fish and Game Code Sections 5901 and 5937.

Throughout the environmental review, the Arroyo Seco Foundation has asserted that Rainbow Trout are still present in the Arroyo Seco and that Pasadena has done an inadequate job of finding and documenting them. The ASCP EIR was tentatively approved by a Pasadena hearing officer on January 6th, but ASF joined with the Pasadena Audubon Society and several individuals to block EIR certification by appealing the decision. The matter was then considered in March by the Pasadena Board of Zoning Appeals, which added a few new conditions to the EIR. ASF and PAS again appealed that decision and forced EIR certification to be considered by the Pasadena City Council. A hearing date for that matter has now been set for next Monday, July 12, 2021.

During the appeal period, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced that they had conducted a Rainbow Trout rescue program on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River after the Bobcat Fire last Fall. CDFW personnel translocated 469 native Rainbow Trout into the Arroyo Seco canyon in the area to be impacted by Pasadena’s ASCP program.

Faced with irrefutable evidence of the presence of many Rainbow Trout, Pasadena has not changed its position regarding the design and operation of the new dam and diversion structure that they plan to build. They state that when steelhead passage from the Pacific Ocean is restored, they will evaluate various ways to meet the requirements of the relevant sections of the Fish and Game Code.

The Fish and Game Code requirements for fish and passage and environmental flows, however, are not limited to steelhead trout. They apply to any fish as well as to other aquatic species that would be trapped by the PWP facilities. Clearly it will be difficult and expensive to retrofit the dam and diversion facilities at some distant point in the future when the steelhead return. This is the time to do it to protect the fish that are there now and to establish better conditions for the future.

We are disappointed in Pasadena’s cynical dereliction of its environmental responsibility. We believe that Pasadena and its Water & Power Department must be good stewards of the natural resources they exploit.

Send a Letter to Pasadena Mayor Gordo and the City Council Today

We urge you and your organization to send a letter to Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo (vgordo@cityofpasadena.net) and the City Council this week urging them to require PWP to alter the design and operation of any new dam and diversion facilities to accommodate fish passage and to provide an environmental flow during critical periods as required by Fish and Game Code Sections 5901 and 5937.

Please contact tim@arroyoseco.org if you have any questions or need any further information.

Information about the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project – https://www.arroyoseco.org/ascp

How to Contact Pasadena Officials –  https://www.arroyoseco.org/tellthecouncil.htm

Translocation of Rainbow Trout to the Arroyo Seco from the Bobcat Fire Burn Area – http://arroyoseco.org/documents/cdfwarroyo.pdf

LA Times Article – http://www.arroyoseco.org/documents/lattrout20210617.pdf

Native Fish in the Arroyo Seco –

Cause Celebre: How a trout rescue on the q.t. ignited a water war in Pasadena

An incredible story of disappearing water, relocated trout and the thirsty needs of Pasadena.
Once known for its fly-fishing close to home, the Arroyo Seco above Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has become an unwilling poster child for all the calamities trout face: devastating fires, ruinous mudslides, parching droughts and , of course, human pressure. (Jim Burns)

An amazing story from the incomparable Los Angeles Times environmental writer Louis Sahagun: “In an era of increasing drought and nearly back-to-back wildfires, state conservationists have been working overtime in the San Gabriel Mountains to rescue frogs, fish and other species facing potential oblivion by rounding up populations of threatened animals and transporting them to safer areas.

While most of these efforts have occurred in obscurity, one recent mission to save hundreds of doomed rainbow trout has touched off a heated battle between humans and fish over the clear waters of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco. The controversy has also served to highlight the challenges wildlife biologists now face as they search for havens amid Southern California’s patchwork of urban development, wildfire scars and seasonal mudslides.”

The story of steelhead, one sign at a time

Earth Quotes: Roderick Haig-Brown’s ‘A River Never Sleeps’

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 10.48.39 AM
Prolific fishing author Roderick Haig-Brown was a conservation pioneer, spending much of his life in Campbell River, B.C. (Courtesy Museum at Campbell River)

Why should we all speak up to restore our river’s natural habitat in the face of redevelopment plans that put everything but the endangered southern steelhead  first?

Perhaps, because of the recent shrinkage of two treasured national monuments, despite an outcry by millions of concerned outdoorsmen (and women). For an eye-opening read, check out What Would Theodore Roosevelt Do?IMG_1028

Perhaps, because of goverment-mandated cutting of the two most important words of this century — “climate change” — from documents produced by the beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency and other federal authorities.

Perhaps, because of the devastating climate-fueled conflagration we all recently witnessed here in our own city, to our north, to our south and to thousands of acres all over California.

Or, perhaps, because it is simply the right thing to do.

When does the misuse of what we’ve been freely given end? A former wild river now encased in concrete is as good a place as any to take a stand. Today, when I wade the soft-bottomed sections that remain, fly rod in hand, birds overhead, I feel that fragile sense of hope return. Hope begins as a small thing, like a faint cry you can’t quite make out. But, given time, and especially nurtured by like minds and hearts, it grows and spreads. Hope becomes a powerful force.

In these depressing times, we all need sources of inspiration to nurture that hope.

Consider the 1946 masterpiece, “A River Never Sleeps.” Its author Roderick Haig-Brown lays out his best-known book’s chapters by months. January is reserved for steelhead.

The English Haig-Brown included in this chapter drawn from his experiences in a logging camp in Mount Vernon, Washington, his praise for American openness to immigrants because we are a nation of immigrants:

“When I had been in camp only a week or two, a little old Irishman whom we called Frank Skagway showed me the strength and passion with which America grips her immigrants. In the bunkhouse one evening a few of us were talking of Europe and America and the differences of the life of the two continents.

Probably I said my say for Old England — I don’t remember now — but being only two or three months away from her, I must have. Frank had been listening without offering a word, but suddenly he looked over at me, his lined and long-jawed Irish face serious as I had never seen it.

‘Lad,’ he asked, ‘do you know what country this is?’

‘No,’ I said doubtfully.

‘It’s the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ ”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Say ‘no’ to damming the LA River for a water wheel

Already approved by the LA City Council in 2014, the water wheel depends on water collected behind an inflatable dam. Did anyone ask the endangered steelhead about this project? (Credit Alden)

In an age when the dams are finally coming down, the city of Los Angeles is erecting a new one, if approved by year’s end. Advocates tout this barrier as both temporary and inflatable, instead of fixed and concrete, and its purpose twofold: to create a basin for water to fuel the Annenberg Foundation’s water wheel; and to slow the flow of treated water to the ocean.

I wonder if any have asked those who advocate for the return of steelhead to the Los Angeles River what they thought?

And I wonder, as retired FoLAR luminary Lewis MacAdams was fond of saying, did anyone ask the steelhead? If they are able to ride a winter storm surge from the beach upstream if they’d like to get stuck behind an inflatable, unnecessary dam?

Dams are coming down all over the country. In fact, 72 dams fell last year, according to American Rivers. And when they are blasted back into the dust from which they came, fish return. That list includes Benbow Dam, South Fork Eel River and Old Carmel River Dam, Carmel River, both in California.

Now we read that inflatable dams are a good idea for the LA River because the county has already used them successfully on the San Gabriel River to recharge groundwater. To me, the logic points backward, not forward.

If we want to end up with a restored river instead of a carnival, one that is renewed with native plants, fish and wildlife, one in which children and their parents can enjoy a taste of the actual river environs, instead of concrete, graffiti and drug deals, this leads exactly in the wrong direction.

Ask a San Antonioan how may fish he’s caught in the remade RiverWalk in downtown San Antonio and he will probably tell you how great the jazz clubs along with river are, and how many dining options there are now. And how much real estate value has increased.  As one YouTuber put it:

“There’s no signs anywhere saying you can’t fish there, but it’s frowned upon and not many people have tried. I didn’t stick around too long, I was getting dirty looks from the employees of a nearby bar, and I think they called the cops.”

Maybe that’s fine for San Antonio, but I don’t think it’s OK for Los Angeles. After all, our own recreation zones have only been open for legal seasonal  fishing for four years.

CalTrout recently released a cry for help because Southern Steelhead, currently endangered, will be extinct, along with many other native fish, within a young person’s lifetime. The advocacy group believes 45 percent of them will be extinct – not endangered, extinct – within 50 years.

So, please take a moment to write Mayor Eric Garcetti and tell him you’d rather give steelhead a chance to return to the San Gabriel Mountains than have an inflatable dam further blocking the way. That you’d rather give our youth a taste of the outdoors in our own communities. That you actually do care about the environment over development. Here is his email:


After all, when the Army Corps eventually begins to tear out the concrete near Atwater Village, the true nature of the river can be coaxed back into the 21st Century. As the water temperatures decrease, the chances of introducing native fish increase.

Using artificial means to increase water levels for a water wheel is wrong headed. In fact, like a hamster wheel, it is circling in exactly the wrong direction.

See you on the river, Jim Burns