About Carpinteria Creek
What has happened to the steelhead?
Fifty years ago, Carpinteria Creek was home to plentiful runs of steelhead trout, which migrated each spring to spawning and feeding habitat in the upper watershed (see map). But over the years, barriers to fish passage, degraded water quality, loss of stream habitat, and other problems have reduced steelhead to occasional visitors. The number of spawning fish in the Creek and other streams in our area has declined to a small fraction of historic levels, and it continues to fall. Today Southern California steelhead is an endangered species. When the local paper features a picture of one illegally pulled from Carpinteria Creek, we realize the magnitude of what we've lost.
Click here to learn more about Steelhead in Carpinteria Creek.
What's so important about Carpinteria Creek?
Despite its problems, Carpinteria Creek offers great potential for steelhead recovery. Thirty years ago, the City of Carpinteria refused to allow the creek to be channelized with concrete for flood control. Now, unlike many other South Coast streams, its channel still runs freely under open spans (rather than through culverts) at both the Union Pacific tracks and the 101 freeway. The upper reaches of the creek contain great fish habitat, and water flows year round through the urban reach of the creek. Along much of the creek, there is a tall tree canopy that maintains the cool water that steelhead require. Because of these features, Carpinteria Creek may offer the best opportunity among all the urban streams in southern Santa Barbara County for restoring significant steelhead runs in the next few years.
Click here to learn more about the Carpinteria Creek Watershed.
What can be done to bring steelhead back?
Like salmon, steelhead are anadromous fish: They are born and reared in freshwater, move to the ocean to grow and mature, and return to freshwater to reproduce. Because of their migratory habits, steelhead are more sensitive to certain conditions in a creek than resident fish.
Restoring significant steelhead runs will require a comprehensive approach to the problems that affect the Creek. The Carpinteria Creek watershed---the land area that drains rainwater and urban runoff into the Creek---covers 9,600 acres (or 15 square miles) and runs from headwaters in Los Padres National Forest to the estuary at Carpinteria State Beach. It includes residential neighborhoods, commercial and other urban areas, farms, parks, roads, and open spaces. Everything that goes on within the boundaries of the watershed can affect the creek.
Healthy streams have natural channels and stable, well vegetated banks that help filter out sediment, nutrients, and other pollutants before they enter the water. But like other streams and rivers in Southern California, Carpinteria Creek has deteriorated as more people have moved into this area. Some sections of the creek have been impacted by urban development, including the storm drain systems that carry rainwater and runoff from streets and parking lots into the creek. Other sections have become victims of barren banks, too much sedimentation, dumped debris, and exotic plants that invade the stream channel or crowd out native vegetation.
Read more about Water Quality in Carpinteria Creek.
What do we mean by "restoration"?
Stream restoration means preserving or returning the stream and the life it supports to a natural, healthy and functioning state. Restoration may involve simply removing invasive, non-native plants---such as giant reed (Arundo donax), Cape ivy, or iceplant---and revegetating the area with native trees and shrubs. It might involve stabilizing the streambank with root wads or other plant material to protect against erosion or undercutting so the bank doesn�t collapse from high-velocity flows. It may mean removing concrete or other hardbanking and replacing it with vegetation.
Restoration could also include reconfiguring or removing summer crossings and other major barriers so that steelhead could migrate easily upstream. And it could involve improving other conditions so that steelhead will begin to thrive naturally in the creek. If good habitat is available, the fish know how to recover.
Check out the other threatened and endandered species in the Carpinteria Creek watershed.
©Carpinteria Creek Watershed Coalition 2011