Friday, June 22 , 2018, 8:20 pm | Fair 62º


Local News

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.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >