[env-trinity] Restoring steelhead to southern California streams could cost up to $2.1 billion over next century

Mark Dowdle - TCRCD mdowdle at tcrcd.net
Fri Jan 13 10:40:14 PST 2012

Ventura County Star

  Restoring steelhead to cost up to $2.1 billion over next century

    Funding would cover 100-year plan

By Zeke Barlow

Originally published 04:51 p.m., January 12, 2012
Updated 08:28 p.m., January 12, 2012

Restoring endangered steelhead trout to the Southern California rivers 
and streams where they once swam in abundance will cost as much as $2.1 
billion over the next 100 years, according to a new federal report.

Along with a financial commitment, a "shift in society attitudes, 
understanding, priorities and practices" concerning water use will be 
needed to save the fish that swim between the ocean and rivers, 
according to the more than 600-page Southern California Steelhead 
Recovery Plan recently released by the National Marine Fisheries.

Beyond the steelhead, people stand to gain from the restoration by 
increased tourism, job creation and an improved river ecosystem, 
the plan states.

"It is an ecosystem-based approach where we are looking at healthy 
watersheds that people use for all kinds of reasons," said Mark Capelli, 
the National Marine Fisheries Service's steelhead recovery coordinator.

Bringing the steelhead back, however, is a long, challenging and 
expensive process that is not guaranteed to work. The recovery plan 
estimates it will cost $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion over the next 
80 to 100 years.

About 500 returning adult steelhead exist today, compared with an 
estimated 45,000 that swam in rivers before World War II. Grainy 
black-and-white photos show smiling fishermen displaying stringers 
full of the fish.

As Southern California grew, development, flood-control measures, 
agriculture, ranching, mining, dams and other activity severely depleted 
steelhead habitat, forcing it onto the endangered species list in 1997.

"It will likely take decades to restore these fish to the coastal rivers 
and streams where they once thrived," said Penny Ruvelas, a fisheries 
supervisor in Southern California for the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration. "But this plan is a very significant step in 
achieving that goal."

In Ventura County, at least $459 million will be needed to return 
steelhead to the nine rivers and creeks where they once flourished. Much 
of that is to "restore natural channel features" in waterways. The price 
tag is likely higher, as some waterways that start in Ventura County and 
drain to Los Angeles are not included in that figure.More than $156 
million will be needed for estuary restoration and management along the 
Santa Clara River.

The plan is a guide for steelhead recovery, not a firm blueprint of who 
should do what. It says only, for example, that better fish passage is 
needed around the Freeman Diversion and Santa Felicia Dam, both run by 
the United Water Conservation District on the Santa Clara River. It 
doesn't spell out how it should happen.

Although United Water long fought against modifying the Freeman 
Diversion, General Manager Mike Solomon said the district now is 
committed to doing what must be done under the Endangered Species Act, 
even if it is costly. The district has no choice, he said.

"The Endangered Species Act is the law of the land, and it is our 
responsibility to be in compliance with it," he said. "We will do 
everything we can do to be in compliance."

The district already has spent $3.5 million on studies looking at how to 
improve fish passage around Santa Felicia Dam, which holds Lake Piru. It 
recently spent $450,000 more for a study on fish-passage construction. 
In the coming years, it may spend as much as $30 million for a rock ramp 
for steelhead at the Freeman Diversion.

Water rates have risen 500 percent in the past nine years, in large part 
because of new environmental regulations, he said.

"We are raising prices, and the costs are going up, and we haven't even 
started building yet," he said. "The federal government does not look at 
how much it costs to do it. They just say you have to do it. At what 
point does the cost get too much?"

The Casitas Municipal Water District spent $9 million to build a fish 
ladder on the Ventura River to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Capelli said while $2.1 billion might seem like a lot, it will not come 
from any one source and will be spread out over 100 years. Also, many of 
the needed restoration projects are already being done through other 
groups and activities.

Even more challenging than funding the projects may be the needed shift 
in attitudes toward water and natural resources, he said. But that's 
already started, too, he said, citing examples such as the city of 
Ventura, which committed to reuse much of its wastewater instead of 
releasing it into a nearby estuary.

"It is a shift that is being seen in a lot of different areas, not just 
steelhead recovery," he said.

Ron Bottorff, chairman of Friends of the Santa Clara River, which has 
been pushing for restoration of the river for years, said people have a 
moral imperative to fix what they broke.

"The larger picture is that we are responsible for all these species 
going under," he said.

Humans spend billions on other, frivolous things, he said. By 
comparison, $2 billion over 100 years to restore waterways in an area as 
vast as Southern California is not "unreasonable," he said.

/On the Net: http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/recovery/So_Cal.htm/

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