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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Fight to Save Steelhead Trout Near Extinction

LOS ANGELES (CN) - California's steelhead trout are threatened with extinction because the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation failed to fix water pumps in critical habitat for the fish off Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County, California Trout claims in court.

California Trout aka CalTrout sued the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Lake Cachuma, its Acting Commissioner Lowell Pimley and the Department of the Interior on Monday in Federal Court.

The steelhead is an anadromous form of rainbow trout: that is, it migrates between fresh and salt water. Lake Cachuma is inland, northwest of Santa Barbara.

CalTrout claims that since March 2013, 393 steelheads have been killed because Bureau water pumps failed on a stretch of Hilton Creek.

During the summer, a pump was out of action between May 25 and June 10 for sixteen days, leaving the creek bone dry, according to the complaint. In that time 217 steelhead trout were killed and 543 steelhead trout rescued, the group says.

According to the 23-page complaint, the Bureau has failed to repairs two creek pumps that allow water to flow from Bradbury Dam on the Santa Ynez River. The dam formed the artificial Lake Cachuma. The pumps have failed 11 times since March 2013, according to the complaint.

There are 500 adult steelhead rainbow trout left in Southern California, according to the lawsuit. The fish was placed on the endangered species list in 1997.

Santa Ynez River once was home to the largest population of steelhead trout in Southern California. That was before construction of the Bradbury Dam hindered the trout's migration into the undeveloped habitat that allows the fish to survive, according to CalTrout.

"Our hope is that the Bureau will fix the pumps and keep the remaining steelhead in Hilton Creek alive," CalTrout's Kurt Zimmerman said in June. "We also hope to ensure that the government and public are aware of the lack of passage over Bradbury Dam and loss of a 25,000-strong steelhead run."

After the dam was built, the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to build the pumps at Hilton Creek to create a stretch of water that would allow the fish to thrive, CalTrout says.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the agency is required to make sure there is an adequate flow of water into the creek and to rescue and transfer fish if the pumps fail, according to the complaint.

But the Bureau has failed to live up to those promises, the group says.

CalTrout asks the court to order the agency to fix the Hilton Creek pumps permanently, and enjoin them from violating the Endangered Species Act.

CalTrout is represented by Nicole Di Camillo with the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara.

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