Santa Barbara’s steelhead trout will find Mission Creek a much friendlier waterway when a trout-tailored construction project is finished this October.
The City of Santa Barbara aims to enable trout to access prime freshwater “spawning and rearing habitat,” where steelhead trout usually spend the first year of their lives before heading out to sea. Ultimately, according to officials, improved stream access should result in population growth.
According to a report released by the City of Santa Barbara, steelhead trout were once plentiful in Southern California, but numbers have been reduced to about 1 percent of their former population. The National Marine Fisheries Service even designated them an endangered species.
“They’re trying to remove any barriers that may block fish from swimming upstream,” said Tim Gaasch, supervising project engineer for the city.
Before this project started, 12 of these man-made barriers were identified within Mission Creek.
Gaasch said crews are installing what are known as fish ladders, or “low flow channels,” in the waterway that allow for fish to move upstream in strong currents caused by large storms or low water levels during dry periods.
The ladders are made up of 40-foot sections that include cutaways that create slower-flowing areas for the fish to move into when currents become stronger.
Construction on the 4,000-foot stretch of waterway began May 1, and Gaasch says it should be finished by the end of October.
“The work we’re doing now is by far the longest part of the project,” he said.
Construction of the project will cost about $2.8 million, but Gaasch said the city is responsible for only a small portion of that sum because of a number of grants from the state and federal governments.