More dollars go toward saving steelhead trout

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Several million dollars in grants and studies are being spent to reintroduce and increase numbers of steelhead trout in Malibu.

In addition to a recent $400,000 grant, Heal the Bay and CalTrout have been working on a $360,000 mapping project to help steelhead migration and habitat.

By Massiel Ladron DeGuevera/Special to The Malibu Times

The latest multimillion-dollar price tag in Malibu has nothing to do with real estate and everything to do with a fish called onchorhyncus mykiss, or steelhead trout.

Adding to the $4 million already spent in construction and studies related to steelhead in Malibu Creek, California Trout (CalTrout) and Heal the Bay are now conducting their own study to map all watersheds in the Santa Monica Mountains and identify any locations where barriers are impeding steelhead movement and habitat. The ultimate goal of this $360,000 GIS mapping project, funded by the California Department of Fish and Game and the State Coastal Conservancy, is to increase the number of steelhead trout in Malibu Creek.

In addition, Heal the Bay recently received another $400,000 grant from the State Coastal Conservancy to use for the removal of two barriers upstream of Rindge Dam in Malibu Creek, and other projects such as stream restoration and water quality monitoring.

This latest expenditure, specifically on the removal of upstream barriers, has irked some. Malibu resident Jack Singleton wrote in a letter to the editor this week, “It’s beyond me how to come up with a more mindless way to waste taxpayers money.”

However, Heal the Bay says it is important to help the steelhead migrate to and from the ocean, therefore enabling an increase in numbers of trout.

“We are using the latest technology for this project,” Heal the Bay scientist Dr. Shelley Luce said. “Our goal is to identify the exact location of problem areas in order to increase the number of steelhead in Malibu.”

Problem areas include places where manmade or natural barriers impede fish migration and heavily polluted regions. Luce said it has only been a few generations since steelhead have had difficulty migrating from the ocean back into Malibu Creek to spawn because of these barriers.

“The steelhead out in the ocean simply can’t get back into the creek anymore,” Luce said. “The main reasons for this problem is the urbanization impact, the fact the river now has concrete sides and pollution.”

Determined to alleviate some of these problems, Heal the Bay scientists ventured up and down Malibu and Solstice creeks carrying an antenna and recorder in their backpacks that sent out satellite signals to accurately record every aspect of these watersheds. After four months of fieldwork, Heal the Bay scientists are now compiling the photographs and data collected and expect to have a topographical map showing in detail the watersheds in approximately six months.

CalTrout conservation director Jim Edmondson is optimistic about the project, but still expressed some concern about the fate of the steelhead due to Rindge Dam. Built in 1926 to bring water to the Malibu Colony, the 102-foot-high, 140-foot-wide concrete damn that lies 2.6 miles up Malibu Creek from the ocean has continually been referred to as one of the main reason there are such low numbers of steelhead in Malibu Creek.

“The damn has only hindered the steelhead population since it was built without providing any means for fish passing and is nothing but a sediment trap for the creek,” Edmondson said. “It would be great if the dam would be removed and we could reintroduce steelhead in this area.”

Malibu resident Louis T. Busch, who has studied this effort extensively, does not think the removal of the dam or the clearing of barriers would make any difference.

“It’s absolutely useless to reintroduce steelhead into the creek or to clear barriers,” Busch said. “The water is way too polluted to sustain any real numbers of steelhead anyway.”

Claiming few things could survive in the creek because of the sanitation released into the water, Busch is skeptical of there ever being an abundant number of any fish in the Malibu Creek.

“The Malibu Lagoon receives a grade of F every time it is reviewed,” Busch said. “I myself used to fish in the creek when I was a boy and would love to once again be able to do so, but until that sanitation plant is removed I don’t see it happening.”

The removal of the dam is still under the review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which received a $2.2 million grant to determine whether removing the Rindge Dam would be the best method to return the steelhead to the upper watershed of Malibu Creek.

Additional funds were also given by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and the Coastal Conservancy to remove the Arizona crossing at Malibu Creek in the Serra Retreat area. Heal the Bay says the funds went directly to the Serra Property Homeowners Association, which is responsible for removing the crossing. The crossing is scheduled to be removed this summer.

“The residents of Serra Retreat are removing the Arizona Crossing and are paying to have a bridge designed so that fish can flow freely in this stream,” Luce said. “The removal of the Arizona Crossing will be the removal of a huge steelhead barrier and sediment trap.”