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Cate School Assists Steelhead Revitalization Efforts

Replacement of concrete roads in creeks with bridges spanning them are among the initiatives the school is pursuing to improve fish habitat

In the early years of Cate School, Carpinteria Creek was flush with steelhead trout that would swim upstream to spawn. The fish population was strong and healthy for many years, but now, as a result of concrete channeling, roads laid down in creek beds, and Army Corps of Engineers-built flood-control projects, the population has been diminished. These man-made barriers prevented steelhead populations from reaching upstream breeding grounds that are vital to their reproduction.

But because of initiatives by environmental groups and public agencies, we might just see the steelhead trout population come back. Four recently completed habitat restoration projects in Carpinteria and Gobernador creeks have opened up two and a half miles of watershed to the fish. If these creeks see enough rain, thousands of spawning fish may make a comeback.

These fish have a host of people to thank for their newly liberated watershed. The first step was removing a dam-like structure in the middle of the watershed in the Gobernador debris basin, which was built 30 years ago to reduce debris flow. The channel now runs freely through two concrete structures on the creek’s bank. This design will allow silt and fish to get through while still blocking larger debris.

Much of the restoration effort took place on private property, including Cate property. Without the cooperation of these landowners, the spawning trout would never even make it to the debris basin. The southernmost barrier, Bliss Crossing, now holds a 20-foot wide steel bridge over the creek. The road below was torn out, ensuring easy passage for fish.

The next step was replacing a similar concrete road on Cate property with a long bridge. According to Cate business manager Sandi Pierce, the bridge and the resulting benefit to fish and all-around ecology is just one of the school’s newest initiatives in environmental stewardship.

Cate has also recently finished construction on five LEED Platinum-certified faculty homes, a LEED Gold-certified Early Learning Center, and a water reclamation plant.

There is one more county-owned debris flow dam and two road barriers that will soon be replaced.

Don Orth is communications director at Cate School.

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