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NMFS Biological Opinion and Fish Management Plan

NMFS Biological Opinion

A Biological Opinion (BO) was issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in September of 2000 for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's (Reclamation) operation and maintenance of Bradbury Dam (the Cachuma Project) on the Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara County, California. NMFS is the agency that oversees protection of Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The BO addresses the effects of the proposed Cachuma Project operations on steelhead and its designated critical habitat in accordance with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Image of Steelhead Trout

The BO covers the proposed changes to Cachuma Project operations to improve habitat conditions downstream of Bradbury Dam for the steelhead, while maintaining current water deliveries. NMFS concluded that the new Cachuma Project operations are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Southern California steelhead, and if carried forward many years into the future, is likely to appreciably increase the likelihood of survival and recovery of the species. The Cachuma Project provides water to over 210,000 people in Santa Barbara County and over 38,000 acres of cropland along the South Coast and in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Reclamation and the Cachuma Project Member Units have developed the proposed revisions to the Project operations since 1993. In that year, the Santa Ynez River Technical Advisory Committee (SYRTAC) was created to conduct studies of fish and aquatic habitat. The SYRTAC was ultimately tasked with the development of a Fish Management Plan for the lower Santa Ynez River. A consensus-based process was employed to develop the suite of proposed changes to project operations that are covered in the Biological Opinion.

The new operations in the BO focused on two major areas:

  1. Flow-related enhancement
  2. Tributary enhancement measures

Flow-related enhancement includes releases to maintain habitat for steelhead and releases to provide additional opportunities for steelhead to migrate into the system to spawn. Water for these releases is provided from "surcharging" Lake Cachuma in spill years and the year following a spill, or from Project yield in years when the reservoir does not spill. Additional actions are included for several tributaries downstream of Bradbury Dam. These actions include improving fish passage at existing impediments, purchasing conservation easements to protect good habitat, and planting trees along streambanks, among others.

Many of the proposed operations are being implemented based on an adaptive management strategy. This strategy allows managers to take advantage of new opportunities, evaluate current actions, and make changes as necessary to benefit steelhead. A long-term monitoring program is also required.

A complete description of proposed actions and the effects of the actions is outlined in the Biological Opinion, which can be downloaded by clicking the link below.

Cachuma Project Biological Opinion

Fish Management Plan

The primary goal of the Fish Management Plan (FMP) is to provide physical fisheries projects and water releases that will protect, enhance, restore and create new habitat for the spawning and rearing of endangered steelhead, as well as passage flows to assist migrating steelhead.

The plan also seeks a balance between fish management, other ecological needs, and the delivery of adequate water supplies to customers of local water agencies.

Implementation of the FMP involves:

  • Modifying barriers to steelhead migration
  • Releasing water from Lake Cachuma for steelhead passage, spawning and rearing
  • Improving habitat for steelhead
  • Long-term monitoring program

 Summary of Fish Management Plan Activities

Fisheries Division Senior Biologist

Several activities have been launched that will help the overall recovery of the steelhead within the Santa Ynez River watershed:

  1. Fish Passage Enhancement: Removes barriers to spawning and rearing habitats at road crossings and bridge culverts that block access for migrating steelhead.
  2. Enhance Water Supply for Fish: During spill years, provides up to 9,200 acre feet of water in Lake Cachuma which is later released to Hilton Creek and the SYR downstream of Bradbury Dam. The project enhances the quality and quantity of existing habitat by providing year- round flows
  3. Streambank Erosion Projects: Addresses severe streambank erosion and sedimentation in creeks that provide prime spawning and rearing habitats.
  4. Tributary Conservation Easements: Involves the acquisition of conservation easements with private landowners along key streams that support steelhead trout, allowing implementation of habitat improvement actions, such as reduction of fine sediments through bank stabilization, and creation of off-channel watering sources for cattle.
  5. Public Education and Outreach: Provides the public with an understanding of the importance of the steelhead enhancement programs, which are also useful in gaining voluntary participation from private landowners. Program elements include public workshops, newsletters, web pages, field trips, slide shows, press releases, and conference presentations about the Santa Ynez River Fisheries Program.

A copy of the Fish Management Plan can be downloaded by clicking the link below.

Lower Santa Ynez River Fish Management Plan (FMP)