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EDC, CalTrout Threaten Lawsuit Over Steelhead Trout Deaths in Hilton Creek

After hundreds of steelhead trout have died in Hilton Creek due to broken pumps, the Environmental Defense Center is threatening to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation unless it fixes the problem.

EDC attorneys are representing the California Trout nonprofit organization, and say the pump issues show “mismanagement” of the steelhead population in the Santa Ynez River watershed.

Since March 2013, 376 trout have died due to pump failures, which have caused the creek to run dry, stranding fish and leading to their demise, EDC staff attorney Nicole Di Camillo said in a statement this week. 

The EDC and CalTrout say they hope the intent-to-sue letter will make the Bureau of Reclamation fix the problem with pump failures.

The groups allege that the steelhead deaths are violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Hilton Creek enter the Santa Ynez River below Bradbury Dam in the Lake Cachuma reservoir, and is a habitat for the federally-endangered Southern California steelhead trout. 

The Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board monitors water levels to make sure there is a viable habitat for the steelhead, which are born in streams, migrate to the ocean and return to the river to reproduce as adults.

There were 10 incidents with equipment failure between March 2013 and March 2014, with five incidents of fish mortalities and fish rescues, COMB general manager Randy Ward said.

On May 25, the Bureau of Reclamation had another equipment failure that killed 200 fish and the equipment still isn’t repaired. 

In the latest incident, staff from COMB and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife were “working feverishly” to save stranded fish, Ward said. 

Bureau staff have been in the Santa Barbara area for more than a week, working to replace the main pump and repair the backup pumps, and they should be up and running soon, said Louis Moore with the bureau's public affairs office. 

The main pump would break intermittently and then the backup pumps started to fail, he said. 

"That really kind of got us to where we are now," he said. 

"It's a really important issue and we completely understand that, so we'll do what we need to do in the near term to get us through this."

With broken pumps, the bureau contracted with a water truck to make 12 deliveries a day to get enough water to flow into the fishery, according to Ward.

“We’ve installed aerators on the fisheries so the oxygen levels are at the required amount to sustain it,” he said.

There are certain amounts of water delivered to the fishery through a mandate, but that water can’t be delivered until the pumping equipment is repaired.

The National Marine Fisheries Services is looking into the trout deaths but can't discuss any details of its investigation, public affairs officer Jim Milbury said. 

Noozhawk staff writer 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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