In June 2003, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County secured a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy to study and design a project to enhance steelhead passage through the highway culvert at the bottom of Arroyo Hondo Creek.

After four years of consulting, designing, planning, permitting, grant writing, negotiating, lawyering and bidding, followed by a year of animal monitoring, relocation, construction, native plant restoration and more than $1 million in expenses, the project is complete.

Celebrate with the project funders, the California Coastal Conservancy and the California Department of Fish & Game, and with the team of scientists, resource agencies, consultants, contractors, Land Trust staff and other local friends of fish from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday at Arroyo Hondo Preserve.

Call Morgan Coffey at 805.966.4520 or e-mail for directions or event information.

Arroyo Hondo Creek flows from the Santa Ynez Range along the Gaviota Coast into the Pacific Ocean. One of the most pristine watersheds in Santa Barbara County, the creek has provided high-quality habitat for the endangered Southern steelhead and other protected species including the California red-legged frog and the tidewater goby.

When Highway 101 was modernized, bypassing the original arched bridge that still stands at the mouth of the creek, a concrete culvert was constructed to convey creek flow under the artificial highway berm.  Unfortunately, the changes that improved automobile travel nearly destroyed a historic migratory route for steelhead.

The altered channel under the roadway made swimming upstream difficult at best while the change in water flow disrupted the natural formation of the resting pools and lagoon that are critical to the steelhead migration from the ocean to the upper creek — and for new fish to make their way from the spawning grounds down to the sea.

With grants from the Coastal Conservancy and the California Department of Fish & Game, the Land Trust embarked upon a project to retrofit the 300-foot culvert beneath Highway 101 at Arroyo Hondo Creek to enhance the downstream lagoon and improve fish passage for the native southern steelhead. Now that several baffles are installed in the culvert to slow down the flow of water and provide areas of deeper water, the steelhead have an excellent chance for successful spawning. The project also created resting pools for migrating fish and restored native vegetation along the creek banks.

Enhanced fish passage may have been the primary focus of the restoration project, but improving conditions for one native species positively impacts the entire ecosystem. All of the creatures that depend on this watershed, as well as the folks who visit Arroyo Hondo Preserve, can enjoy a natural habitat that can thrive as it did in the past and well into the future.

Morgan Coffey represents the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.