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SCVNews.com | Feds Still Restoring Santa Clara River After ’90s Pipeline Breaks | 09-15-2016
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The Least Bell's Vireo is one species benefiting from the riparian restoration projects along the Santa Clara River. Photo: Steve Maslowski, USFWS

The Least Bell’s Vireo is one species benefiting from the riparian restoration projects along the Santa Clara River. Photo: Steve Maslowski, USFWS

[U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Sept. 14, 2016] – Oil spills permeate every aspect of the environment, contaminating water, destroying land, and threatening wildlife. To clean up, we must work on many levels to restore the impacted area. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution to this.

The communities surrounding the Santa Clara River in southern California are all too familiar with the difficulty of cleaning up an oil spill. Two major oil spills, the ExxonMobil pipeline break of 1991 and the ARCO pipeline break of 1994, impacted the same 15-mile stretch of the Santa Clara River.

Following the spills, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) partnered with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to conduct a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) for each spill. The watershed is home to 16 federally protected species, and is an Audubon Global Important Bird Area. The NRDAs documented impacts to hundreds of acres of riparian habitat as well as numerous birds, mammals, fish, and other wildlife that live, feed, and shelter in the river corridor.

To counter the environmental injury caused by these spills, the Service and CDFW created the Santa Clara River Trustee Council (SCRTC). The SCRTC works on restoration projects for the injured habitat and wildlife of the Santa Clara River, using $9.8 million ($2.7 million from Exxon Mobil and $7.1 million from ARCO) to protect land and rebuild native habitats for wildlife.

Unlike many other major rivers in the Country, the Santa Clara River is not in the public domain, and is divided into numerous parcels that are privately owned. To protect as much of the river as possible, the SCRTC has partnered with The Nature Conservancy, California Coastal Conservancy, and California Wildlife Conservation Board to acquire 1,011 acres of land within the river corridor. The SCRTC is also working with these partners and the California Department of Water Resources to preserve agricultural lands in the floodplain surrounding the river channel. Preserving these iconic agricultural fields of the Santa Clara River valley provides a buffer between the river and our communities. Farmers that participate in the floodplain protection program receive funding in order to keep their land in agriculture, in exchange for a promise not to build permanent levees that would prevent the river from flowing naturally. Protecting the land surrounding the Santa Clara River protects the habitats within the river corridor that are so valuable for wildlife.

When free-flowing rivers are dammed and channelized, migratory fish such as the Southern steelhead trout are unable to reach their spawning grounds, and the entire population declines. Photo: Jennifer Strickland, USFWS.

When free-flowing rivers are dammed and channelized, migratory fish such as the Southern steelhead trout are unable to reach their spawning grounds, and the entire population declines. Photo: Jennifer Strickland, USFWS.

Oil spills can be detrimental to wildlife reliant on the damaged water and land, but the restoration actions can focus on fixing other issues that threaten the river. The Santa Clara is one of the last remaining free-flowing river systems in southern California — the rest are obstructed by dams, and channelized with concrete in large sections. When free-flowing rivers like the Santa Clara are dammed and channelized, migratory fish such as the Southern steelhead trout are unable to reach their spawning grounds, and the entire population declines. That’s why the SCRTC is partnering with California Trout and the California Conservation Corps to remove barriers to fish migration in Santa Clara River. Through rehabilitation of their habitats and further research, we can restore wildlife in and along the Santa Clara.

The process of cleaning up after an oil spill and restoring the environment spans multiple generations, so participation and support from the local community is the key to restoring the Santa Clara and keeping the watershed healthy. SCRTC sponsored education programs and museum exhibits work to foster an appreciation of the Santa Clara River by highlighting the wildlife and ecosystem services the river supports. Children and adults are embracing these education efforts and people of all ages have volunteered to help complete long-term projects in the watershed.

Restoring and conserving the Santa Clara River will be a lengthy process, but we have made incredible progress. Through the hard work of the SCRTC, the Service, our partners, and the local community, the devastating effects of these oil spills in the Santa Clara River are becoming a thing of the past.

 

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5 Comments

  1. jim says:

    “Are becoming a thing of the past”? Really, you are promising that, or just suggesting that?

    What is said above is possible, given that many of the major oil producing areas in the SCV have either cut back or abandoned their fields due to lower yields. The eastern end of the Santa Clara Valley has long been abandoned by oil producers, other than the big hills along the west side of the 14 freeway between Newhall Avenue and Golden Valley Road. Since the major producer in Placerita has declared bankruptcy, it is possible that pumping, oil storage, and the inevitable spills into feeder streams will either cease or be reduced.

    Has the Newhall Ranch development plan dedicated current and future oil exploration opportunites west of I5 and similar areas to other pursuits that have nothing to do with oil production? I would assume that people who buy homes in the Landmark Village and other phases of the project would like to know that.

    The story suggests that the SCRTC has only the authority to fix the damage done by major oil spills, although it apparently tries to encourage appropriate use of properties adjoining the river (aka farming and watershed protection).

    Great! But what about riparian habitats that are damaged by encroachment into the riverbed due to development? That would be the many phases of the Newhall Ranch Project already approved or in line for approval by Los Angeles County. And we can throw into that mix the Vista del Canyon project in Canyon Country, a footprint that has already pushed deep into the river bed (only grading so far, but pushing into the river’s traditional flood bed).

    Trumpeting the good that is being done to fix the damage of the past is a fine thing. However, preventing the damage that may be done in the future is a far, far better thing to do.

  2. jim says:

    Yep*. As usual I trust our government will attempt to do right by us (as far as the environment including fish and wildlife), more or less. I’d like to think that includes looking ahead for future circumstances that can cause damage similar to what they are trying to fix now.

    Wouldn’t that be nice?

    It is a press release, right?

    *Perhaps I should have said “They” instead of “you” in the second sentence to keep things clear.

    • SCVNews.com says:

      As to whether it was a press release … not entirely sure how it was distributed. It’s something they published on their website on the 14th.

  3. Dave Middleton says:

    While laudable that SCRCT is working to protect the Santa Clara river channel- I find it quite misleading to create the impression that the Santa Clara river could be returned to a suitable habitat to sustain wild steelhead- that is a total fantasy. And by the way the picture included in the article is one of a dead steelhead…

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