Transforming an Ecosystem

Published 3/9/2021  |  California Trout

In the mountains of coastal Orange County, within Cleveland National Forest, a five-year project is underway to remove 81 small-sized dams across four streams. California Trout is leading an important role in this large, multi-partner and multi-level project, which addresses a key initiative for our organization: reconnecting habitat. We aim to give salmon and steelhead access to diverse habitat by removing barriers and getting obsolete dams out. For Southern California, this will help protect endangered southern steelhead.

Dr. Sandra Jacobson, CalTrout’s South Coast Regional Director, explains that southern steelhead are like a canary in the coal mine, a key indicator species. “When they disappear, that means there are probably multiple issues within a watershed.” Without dams, the streams are able to create a more natural gradient and pool structure and steelhead are once again able to access high-quality spawning and rearing habitat.

CalTrout’s specific efforts involve leading the removal of two barriers on Trabuco Creek. A concrete-lined channel currently runs below an array of five highway overpasses, spanning a quarter of a mile. The drop and the speed of water flowing through the hardened channel inhibits steelhead from making it through the gauntlet. CalTrout is developing designs for construction of a fish-passage friendly structure that will replace this and open up steelhead access to 15 miles of upstream spawning habitat. The fish passages are expected to be completed around 2023 to 2025. Learn more about this project: www.caltrout.org/projects/i-5-trabuco-creek-fish-passage-project.

Two barriers for fish passage on Trabuco Creek. Photo: Mike Wier / CalTrout

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