Steelhead and Coho Salmon Restoration

The County of Santa Cruz has a long history of implementing programs and projects that benefit steelhead and coho salmon.  Last August, my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors and I approved the Santa Cruz Integrated Water Resources Management (IRWM) Plan, a multi-agency collaborative process to improve local water supply and provide environmental benefits to water-related projects.

In the past five years, the County has also implemented a new policy to retain large woody material in streams for fish habitat, completed 14 fish passage projects, contributed to steelhead monitoring, implemented numerous road improvement projects that benefit fish, and participated in coho salmon and steelhead recovery planning.  We have dozens of programs and policies in place to protect streams and riparian corridors from sediment, development, and pollutants.

With the ongoing drought and recent statewide orders for Californians to reduce water use, we need to meet our basic needs.  We also need to meet the needs for aquatic life. Soon we will be asked to approve a comprehensive plan with prioritized fish recovery actions for the six watersheds in Santa Cruz County.

Steelhead are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), while coho salmon are listed as endangered under both the federal and state ESA.  The listings include Santa Cruz County’s North Coast streams, San Lorenzo River, Soquel Creek, and Aptos Creek.  Coho salmon are critically endangered in Santa Cruz County and are expected to recover only with a strong commitment to watershed restoration, a captive broodstock program, and re-introduction into San Lorenzo, Soquel, and Aptos watersheds.

In February 2014, the Valley Women’s Club asked me to initiate a Santa Cruz County action plan for coho salmon recovery in the San Lorenzo River Watershed.  Their request contained a detailed list of actions to support coho salmon recovery that included both actions from the NOAA Fisheries 2012 Coho Salmon Recovery Plan and additional recommendations.  The Santa Cruz County Fish and Game Advisory Commission subsequently reviewed their request, supported a  Steelhead and Coho Salmon Conservation Program, and also suggested taking a stronger stand on coho recovery.

Kristen Kittleson, Fisheries Resource Planner for the County of Santa Cruz,  combined recovery actions from the various plans for each of the six Santa Cruz County watersheds – Waddell, Scott, San Vicente, San Lorenzo, Soquel, and

Aptos – and prioritized recovery actions.

While there are somewhat different priorities for steelhead and coho salmon, many of the recovery actions for the two species are the same.

The Steelhead and Coho Salmon Conservation Program describes 20 key actions to protect stream habitat that can be implemented by Environmental Health, Public Works, Planning, Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services, and the Agricultural Commissioner within the next three years.   Many of the actions revolve around three critical issues:  stream flow, habitat complexity, and sediment.

The plan is expected to come to the Board of Supervisors for adoption this spring. I look forward to its adoption and implementation.