Santa Clara River Estuary Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Feasibility Study
The Santa Clara River Estuary (“SCRE”) is located at the interface of the Santa Clara River and the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County, California. Historically, the SCRE was an expansive intertidal ecosystem that included unrestrained channels, marshes, and riparian habitats that supported a vast array of aquatic species including the endangered southern California steelhead (“steelhead”). Since the 1850’s, land development and hydrologic modifications within the watershed have dramatically reduced the overall size and quality of the habitat within the SCRE. While historically home to one of the largest steelhead runs in southern California with an estimated annual run of over 8,000 steelhead returning adults prior to the 1950s, very few adult steelhead currently return to the Santa Clara River and its tributaries. The Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan published in January 2012 by the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) identified the Santa Clara River as one of the highest priority sites for recovery actions, as one of the most likely to sustain independently viable populations, and as critical for ensuring viability of the species as a whole (NMFS, 2012). In addition to steelhead, many other special-status wildlife, fish, and avian species have also been documented at the Santa Clara River Estuary including but not limited to: tidewater goby, California least tern, and western snowy plover.
Wishtoyo's Feasibility Study and the Preferred Estuary Restoration Design
In partnership with California State Parks Channel Coast District, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wishtoyo's Santa Clara River Estuary Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Feasibility Study (“Project”) was launched in December 2013. The purpose of the project was to explore the feasibility of expanding and enhancing estuarine habitat for steelhead and other native and protected species by restoring approximately 15 to 35 acres of the Santa Clara River Estuary to lagoon, side channel, contiguous wetland, and/or additional upland riparian habitat within the space currently occupied by the McGrath State Beach Campground.
The campground is located on the southern margin of the Santa Clara River Estuary and, in recent years, has often been closed to the public because of shallow flooding caused by high water levels in the estuary. While portions of the campground have transitioned into wetland conditions due to the regular flooding, these areas are dominated by non-native wetland species and are dissected by the paved campground roads, facilities, and campsites. The area currently provides no steelhead habitat when water levels in the Santa Clara River Estuary are low. When inundated, the area provides limited, poor-quality steelhead habitat, degraded water quality, and dramatically reduced cultural and recreational opportunities.
Completed in September 2015, the Project resulted in a preferred restoration design with supporting studies, plans, and alternatives analysis to restore 42 acres of estuary habitat needed for the survival and recovery of the endangered southern California steelhead and other native fish and birds. The preferred restoration design includes a contiguous estuary lagoon in place of the current campground, and contains graduated structural habitat that would be functional over all potential future estuary water levels, a protected island feature for native birds, and a fluvial high flow side channel. Under this preferred alternative, the oft flooded McGrath State Beach campground would be moved further down beach on a degraded parcel adjacent to the restoration project. The new campground would offer residents and visitors enhanced coastal access, recreational opportunities, wildlife viewing, and educational and cultural experiences.
The feasibility study and accompanying preferred restoration concept was developed, informed, and designed by restoration specialists from a highly qualified team of experts lead by cbec eco engineering that included members from WRA Environmental Consultants, and by an independent technical advisory committee consisting of Dr. Sean Anderson of California State University Channel Islands, Dr. Richard Ambrose of UCLA, Dr. David Jacobs of UCLA, and Mark Abramson of Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation.
In addition, state, federal, local, university, private, and non profit scientific and technical experts provided input during Wishtoyo’s Restoration Design Charrette and Preferred Restoration Concept meetings with over 50 attendees present at each gathering. Technical experts from Wishtoyo and its Ventura Coatkeeper Program, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ventura Field office, and California State Parks Channel Coast District provided material feedback and review throughout the study.
With a budget of over $947,000 under our management, the Study was principally funded through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Fisheries Restoration Grant Program with additional funds granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the McGrath Trustee Council. Wishtoyo and California State Parks Channel Coast District provided in kind support.
The Project Deliverables and Media Coverage can be found here:
Santa Clara River Estuary Habitat Restoration & Enhancement Feasibility Study with the Estuary Restoration Design Plan Set at the 30% completion level (click here)
Appendices to the Santa Clara River Estuary Habitat Restoration & Enhancement Feasibility and Design Study (click here)
Existing Conditions Technical Report for the Santa Clara River Estuary Habitat Restoration & Enhancement Feasibility and Design Study (click here)