Santa Paula Times

SP Creek Harvey Diversion, Fish Ladder brings sharp Council comment

September 03, 2008
Santa Paula City Council

The City Council showed little, and in at least one case no enthusiasm for putting more funding into the Santa Paula Creek Harvey Diversion and Fish Ladder after a report presented at the August 18 meeting.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe City Council showed little, and in at least one case no enthusiasm for putting more funding into the Santa Paula Creek Harvey Diversion and Fish Ladder after a report presented at the August 18 meeting. “I’m here to talk to you about the Santa Paula Creek in general and what has been going on lately, meaning the last five years,” Interim Public Works Director Jon Turner told the Council.The creek was diverted as early as 1867 to provide water for agricultural and domestic use. The Harvey Diversion was created in 1923, and “has been repaired after major events” many times since its construction.In January/February 2005, major storms created flooding that destroyed rock weirs; and the “most recent effort, the Fish Ladder” reconstructed to help steelhead trout in their migration.After more of Turner’s report Vice Mayor Ralph Fernandez asked, “Has there been a study if the fish use this and does it work?”“I was afraid I would be asked this,” said Turner, who noted, after meeting with state and federal wildlife officials, the structure was modeled after those that “do work. If the question is whether or not there are any steelhead in the creek,” it is a different matter.After more discussion Turner told the Council that in 2006 FEMA reestablished the rock weirs, and repairs to the diversion were completed the next year. “As part of the effects and aftermath, a technical advisory committee was formed in 2007” with the goal of reaching consensus among stakeholders - including the city, which is part of a Joint Powers Authority - on bank stabilization, among other issues. RBF/Stillwater Sciences has done a study of the “entire watershed of Santa Paula Creek,” which, noted Turner, is “quite large.”The Army Corps of Engineers’ fish ladder further downstream is “much less dramatic than what we had,” which was destroyed during the 2005 flood event. Work on the lower Santa Paula Creek channel by the Army Corps of Engineers has been at a standstill for some time, and the agreement was that once the work was completed the Corps would transfer maintenance and operation responsibilities to the Ventura County Watershed Protection District.Turner told the Council that although the project was completed, the fish ladder was destroyed and debris again built up in the channel; and the Corps has “indicated that funding is not available” for completion. Once completed and the levee certified, the flood zone designation that impacts the east side of the city would be changed and property owners in the area would no longer be required to have, or would see a reduction in their flood insurance.
Turner said the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) - “a group of sort of competing entities” - has been studying the issues, but it would be up to the Joint Powers Agreement entities to fund Harvey Diversion/Fish Ladder repairs, estimated at $2.4 million. Alternatives to repairs range from not doing anything to “completely tearing it out” and letting the soil and debris behind the structure to find its own course.Turner also presented other alternatives, including retaining the diversion and eliminating the fish ladder to create a new 500-foot wide corridor to extend almost one-mile downstream at an estimated cost of $19.6 million. The TAC, he added, will make the determination.“This is totally out of our hands, right?” asked Councilman Dr. Gabino Aguirre.“Yes and no,” said Turner, as the city is represented on the TAC, which also includes United Water Conservation District, VCWPD, California Fish & Game, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, The Nature Conservancy, Canyon Irrigation Co., and UCSB.Turner said his preference would be to remove the fish ladder, but leave the diversion in “place as much as possible,” although when “10-ton rock tied together with two-inch cable disappears” it makes him “nervous” how long any manmade structure would last with peak period water flows.“This is crazy,” said Mayor Bob Gonzales. “Let nature take its course... I don’t want to see any Santa Paula money go there.”Although he expressed concerns on flooding impacts from debris “almost at the mouth of the creek” not yet removed, “I would not want to put one dime in a fish ladder, it’s a waste of money... good money after bad. Let the fish do it on their own without the aid of an engineer.”Gonzales noted that although he understands that the issue is important to some, if the city invests more funding it would be the third time it has done so. And, he added, “I can’t see spending another dime or another minute on this project.”