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Mission Creek project carves out new passage for fish

Parts of Mission Creek are getting more fish friendly in hopes of saving the endangered Southern California steelhead trout.

It might not look like it, but the revamp of Mission Creek is all about the steelhead trout.

“Southern California steelhead is probably the most endangered species we have in Santa Barbara. The experts estimate that we have one percent of the history population still surviving. So once there existed up to 50,000 fish, they now estimate that there are 500 adult, ocean-going, steelhead remaining,” said Cameron Benson, the creek restoration water quality manager for Santa Barbara.

The problem started with the flood control channel, which was created to protect the freeway from flooding. When it rains, the water moves so quickly downstream, it’s too fast for the fish to swim up.

That’s where the Mission Creek project comes in — to create a fish passageway.

“Right here you can see a little cutout, this is where we’ll put in what we call sills, and they’re shaped like speed bumps. They back the water up so we get depth for the fish, so they can have a deep enough water to swim in because they can’t swim in shallow water. And they just keep making their way up the channel. Every 40 feet we have a resting area, and as you see, they just go up the channel,” explained George Johnson, creeks supervisor.

But to create the passage, it takes a lot of work. Crews have to cut out the bottom of the channel piece by piece. Each piece weighs about 700 pounds.

The project should wrap up around mid-October and when it rains, hopefully the fish will come.

“And getting up into that upper watershed where they can successfully spawn and ultimately help recover that species and take it off the endangered species list,” said Benson.

The project costs $3.2 million. All but $300,000 comes from state, federal and local foundation grants. The rest of the money is from voter-approved Measure B funds.

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