Hilton Creek

  • Goal: Ensuring protection for endangered steelhead trout
  • Year Started: 2013
  • Client: California Trout

Hilton Creek, a small tributary of the Santa Ynez River, is in many ways emblematic of the challenges we face in protecting the native, endangered steelhead trout throughout this watershed. Since the Bradbury Dam began operating in 1953, preventing steelhead access to natural upstream spawning grounds, fish populations in the River have plummeted from approximately 25,000 steelhead to fewer than 20 – a decrease of more than 99%. Southern CA steelhead are one of the most endangered fish in the United States, a form of rainbow trout that spawn in coastal streams before migrating to the Pacific Ocean to mature. To ensure species survival, the federal Bureau of Reclamation has been charged with keeping water flowing into Hilton Creek, designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service as critical habitat for the steelhead. However, between mid-2013 and late 2014, water pumps at the Dam that release water from Lake Cachuma into Hilton Creek have failed 13 separate times killing nearly 400 fish.

In 2014, EDC filed a lawsuit against the Bureau for violation of the Endangered Species Act by failing to ensure the Hilton Creek pump system is adequately functioning to protect the steelhead. EDC and our client’s position is that we need to maintain sufficient water flow and identify creative permanent solutions to help steelhead migrate to their native waters on the other side of Bradbury Dam.

hilton creek 1912

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