Watershed committee reminds region of Southern steelhead trout’s critically endangered status

Agoura Hills City Councilmember Jeremy Wolf. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

Inaugural State of the Watershed meeting provides updates on panel’s efforts to conserve water 

The North Santa Monica Bay Watershed Steering Committee held an inaugural State of the Watershed 2023 meeting last Thursday to address its efforts in improving local water quality and the danger of Steelhead trout, also known as the Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus, becoming extinct. 

In 1997, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed Southern steelhead as endangered. In 2012, NMFS designated Malibu Creek as a high-priority recovery river in the Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan. Malibu Creek is one of the last remaining streams in Southern California where steelheads can be found.

According to California Trout, the nonprofit organization, at the current rate, 45 percent of California salmonids are likely to be extinct in the next 50 years. This includes 11 of 21 anadromous species (52 percent) and three of 10 inland species (30 percent). In 100 years, 23 of the remaining 31 species (74 percent) are likely to be extinct if present conditions continue.

Although the Southern steelhead has been listed as endangered since 1997, they remain under threat of extinction within the next 25 to 50 years. Barriers such as Ringde Dam have blocked their access to creeks and streams; however, most recently, the dam was advanced to pre-construction, engineering, and design phase. The removal of the dam will have a positive impact on the steelhead’s recovery. The eight upstream barriers will restore access for steelhead to 18 miles of historic spawning and rearing habitat.

Last week’s conference included representatives from Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Topanga, Westlake Village, and Malibu. 

Guests include Agoura Hills City Councilmember Jeremy Wolf, Watershed Coordinator Melina Watts, representatives for LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, and Dr. Katherine Pease from Heal the Bay. 

For Malibu, Public Works Director Rob DeBoux attended the conference and provided an update on the current and future projects the City of Malibu is working on. 

“We want to do projects that help our water quality,” DeBoux said. “We use our funds for ongoing operations and maintenance in our storm drain facilities.” 

City of Malibu Public Works Director Rob DeBoux
City of Malibu Public Works Director Rob DeBoux. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

Watts helped coordinate the event to help connect cities and their efforts in improving water quality.

“The first annual North Santa Monica Bay State of the Watershed event came out of a conversation with Dave Pedersen, general manager of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, who wanted to create an event which would explore the nexus between the work our cities and Los Angeles County are doing to improve water quality while creating local water supply and the conservation efforts underway by many community partners to sustain biodiversity in our region,” Watts said. “Dave noted that the cities and agencies which work in the North Santa Monica Bay region integrate conservation values into their work in an effort to help sustain the biodiversity that we cherish in this region.”

When rain hits the ground and takes pollutants with it into streams and down into the sea, it sounds like the most elusive problem imaginable, and Watts said learning how Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Malibu, Westlake Village and L.A. County are taking on stormwater pollution is inspiring. 

Safe, Clean Water L.A. is providing funding to municipalities that makes critical annual maintenance work possible. As an example, regular street sweeping is an incredibly effective tool in reducing pollution. Safe Clean Water L.A. also can provide funding for major infrastructure projects and was originally designed to support open space acquisition and projects that would move impermeable surfaces back to permeable surfaces.

Focusing on the conservation presentations, Watts said they are lucky to have the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program working on numerous conservation projects, such as beach dune restoration and kelp forest restoration. 

“Rosi Dagit and her team at the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains have been studying our endangered Southern steelhead trout for several decades, and it is daunting to learn how fragile that fish population is,” Watts said. “But their work to restore the Topanga Lagoon and Trancas Lagoon will increase fish habitat, so that’s hopeful.” 

Watts said Wolf, whose also an LVMWD staffer as well as Agoura Hills councilmember, introduced them to a poster fish to inspire more work to save this species, a fish former Calabasas Mayor Dennis Washburn dubbed, “Rosey the Steelhead” to the acclaim of the audience. She also said the California Department of State Parks continues to make progress on getting to the point of removing Rindge Dam and eight upstream fish barriers. 

“That would open up 15 miles of upstream habitat, so perhaps Southern steelhead trout can re-establish themselves in Malibu Creek,” Watts said. “Our event was led by Wolf, who gave a heartfelt land acknowledgment, while Senator Fran Pavley started the afternoon off with insights on water use in California.”

The presentation closed the evening with a tour of the Pure Water Project demonstration site led by Riki Clark of the LVMWD. Participants learned how the district can take treated wastewater and run it through reverse osmosis and UV treatment.

“I was really moved by the excitement in the room after the event,” Watts shared. “People are thrilled to find out how much positive work is happening to improve local water quality, increase local water supply and sustain biodiversity.”

To learn more about the Las Virgenes Malibu Water District, visit lvmwd.com. To learn more about the steelhead trout, visit caltrout.org.