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Groups Sue Bureau of Reclamation Regarding Steelhead Trout Deaths in Hilton Creek

Lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Center and CalTrout alleges that repeated pump equipment failures violated Endangered Species Act

Santa Barbara's Environmental Defense Center and CalTrout came through on their threat and filed a lawsuit related to the steelhead trout deaths in Hilton Creek.

The creek is a habitat for the federally-endangered species of Southern California steelhead, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for the pumping system that keeps water flowing past Lake Cachuma’s Bradbury Dam into the creekbed.

The groups filed a lawsuit on Monday, according to the EDC.

In the complaint, the groups allege the Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act with the repeated pump equipment failures that caused the deaths of at least 393 fish.

Despite the recurring fish kills, the bureau has failed to make necessary permanent repairs to the existing pumps and backup systems,” they wrote in a statement this week. “By allowing these deaths to occur, the bureau has placed the Santa Ynez River’s tenuous steelhead run — and the entire species — at an increased risk of extinction, and has violated federal law mandating the species’ protection and restoration.”

They hope filing the lawsuit will “encourage the bureau to make the necessary repairs as quickly as possible.”

Bureau staff were on site to fix the pumping system in June and ordered water trucks to make 12 deliveries a day to get enough water to the fishery, according to the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board.

New pumps were installed, and those pumps have been running without any problems since early June, said Louis Moore with public affairs for the Bureau of Reclamation.

“They’ve even taken a further step to construct a new emergency backup system which is in progress, it’s something we’re looking to do in the long term in event of problems,” he said.

His department hadn’t received notice of the lawsuit being filed as of Friday.

“Right now everything is flowing along,” he said. 

The Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board recently sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation dealing with the water releases for fish.

Board members want clarity on when water levels in Lake Cachuma are so low that a reduced amount of water for fish would go into effect.

At that Sept. 22 meeting, COMB fisheries division manager Tim Robinson said the back-up pumping system for Hilton Creek had 90 days to get working but wasn’t sure if work had started.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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