A win for Santa Clara River steelhead protections

A long court battle has come to an end with a victory for conservation groups arguing that United Water Conservation District’s Vern Freeman Dam has harmed recovery efforts of the endangered steelhead trout in the Santa Clara River.

The legal battle, brought by the Wishtoyo Foundation, its Ventura Coatkeeper Program and the Center for Biological Diversity, ended with a court ruling stating that the District violated protections set forth by the Endangered Species Act, “clearly causing past, ongoing, and future harm to steelhead as a result of the dam’s barrier to fish movement and diversion of water,” according to Jason Weiner, general counsel and water initiative director for Wishtoyo, and that United “dragged its feet” on working toward finding a solution to the problem.

“By eliminating physical barriers to steelhead passage, we are not only protecting an endangered species, but we are also overcoming barriers that have interrupted the continuity of our ancestral traditions,” said Mati Waiya, a ceremonial elder of the Santa Clara River Turtle Clan and executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “Steelhead hold a central and honored place in our culture. Restoring instream flows to the Santa Clara River allows steelhead access to their spawning sites, and also allows restoration of our ancestral connection celebrating the seasonal return of the steelhead through our shared waters.”

The ruling requires that United ensure adequate flow along the 10.5-mile stretch of the Santa Clara River that the steelhead traverse to and from the ocean and have a design for a fully functioning 400-foot-wide notch and and also a ramp alternative that will allow the fish to migrate beyond the dam by January 2020, and to construct the preferred alternative two years after agency approvals (namely the National Marine Fishery Services, among others).

Otter numbers down from previous year, but still above average

The furry sea-dwelling otters living along the coast from Ventura to Santa Barbara are still exhibiting encouraging numbers in spite of a dip in total count from 2017, according to new research from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

While the numbers have declined, the average population count remains above 3,090 for the third consecutive year, an important number and feat due to the fact that, should the average remain above 3,090 for three consecutive years, the otters could be delisted from the Endangered Species Act.

“Reaching this threshold is a milestone in southern sea otter recovery, but it will be important to review all factors influencing the population to determine whether or not delisting is appropriate using the best available science,” said Lilian Carswell, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “For the southern sea otter, those factors include ongoing threats such as shark bite mortality, lack of range expansion and changes in prey.”

Public comment open for proposed new Oxnard high school

The Oxnard Union High School District is looking for public comment on a proposed design for its new high school and will host a public forum on Oct. 11 to hear from residents.

In June, Oxnard voters approved Measure A, which included money for a new high school to address rising student populations, as the two current high schools — Oxnard High School and Pacifica High School — are at or above capacity.

The new school, planned for the intersection at Rose and Camino del Sol, will assist in balancing students across the district with an expected enrollment of 2,400 students.

“We strongly encourage parents and members of the community to attend this meeting and give us input,” said Board President Dr. Gary Davis. “This school belongs to the public and we want to hear from them about what they want.”

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the OUHSD Board Room, 220 S. K St., Oxnard. For more information, call 805-276-2110.