In generations past, salmon and trout fishing were enormously popular and drew thousands of visitors to the SLV each year. In the 1970’s headlines read, “The River is Dead,” meaning that sediment from accelerated erosion and many forms of pollution were making it impossible for riparian species, and especially salmonids like Coho salmon and Steelhead trout, to survive. They could not spawn and survive to grow large enough to make their way to the ocean where they would mature into adults and then eventually return to the creeks and River to spawn and start the cycle anew.
Responding to the degradation, the County of Santa Cruz initiated a Watershed Management Plan and, with the overwhelming support of the community (due, in part, to a strong campaign by the new Valley Women’s Club), worked to mitigate our impact through ordinances such as the Riparian Corridor and Grading ordinances, among others.
The situation improved, and the waterways are healthier, however these vital fish species are still struggling, and the Federal Government named them Endangered (Coho) and Threatened (Steelhead) Species. Since then, after years of work involving significant public input, NOAA has written detailed Recovery Plans that, if they had enforcement power, might insure the restoration of these species. (swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/recovery/Coho.htm) (www.nmfs.noaa.gov › Feature Stories › 2012) Regretfully, the plans are guides, and it will take a lot of public pressure to make sure agencies (such as water districts and local governments), businesses and residents take action to implement the crucial parts of the plans.
The VWC’s Environmental Committee for the SLV has a hard-working subcommittee dedicated to helping impacted agencies understand their specific roles in this effort, and supporting them to follow through. The subcommittee has formulated an action plan, and its first task will be to submit letters to the SLV Water Board, the Santa Cruz City Water Department, The City of Scotts Valley and the County of Santa Cruz, detailing the dozens of actions that each agency should undertake to help assure the survival of these species. As this is done, the VWC will reach out to the community to seek support for aggressive action by these agencies.
A crucial aspect of this endeavor is that virtually every one of these measures will also improve the health of the watershed, improving water quality and enhancing habitat for all species. Contact Cathleen O’Connell if you want to be involved in this effort.