A local environmental group is urging the State Water Board to investigate alleged water diversion from Gaviota Creek, an action they assert is being done illegally and threatening the population of endangered Southern Steelhead fish.
Coastal Ranches Conservancy, an environmental protection group that operates along the Gaviota Coast, sent a petition to the State Water Board back in June 2020, requesting that officials examine water removal from Gaviota Creek. The CRC alleges that the water diversion is happening illegally to provide water to Gaviota rest stops.
According to Doug Campbell, CRC’s executive director, Gaviota State Park officials began diverting water for regional rest areas from Gaviota Creek in 1988 without obtaining a permit. As water levels continue to drop due to the diversion, Mr. Campbell said the population of Southern Steelhead fish is at risk of dying off in the creek.
“The primary concern is that the creek will dry up from time to time, not along its whole length, but various sections,” Mr. Campbell told the News-Press. “This will result in the Steelhead, which are listed as an endangered species, it will result in them getting stranded in these pools, and when the pools get scarce the fish will die. This is why the population of Steelhead in Gaviota Creek are so endangered.”
After submitting the original petition over eight months ago, the CRC is making a final push to have their claims reviewed by the State in anticipation of an upcoming Caltrans project on the Gaviota Coast.
Caltrans is planning to break ground on a $6 million project at Gaviota Roadside Rest Areas next month, but Mr. Campbell said this project is “extremely risky” without a legal water supply. Those in favor of the CRC petition are asking Caltrans to consider relocating the rest areas to the Mariposa Reina and urge them to utilize water from a desal water source at the shuttered Freeport Oil Facility.
“This desal plant is currently being used to supply water to the Marine Mammal Center, as well as to the county fire station,” Mr. Campbell said. “They have plenty of capacity to provide more water, and the owners of that desal plant have offered to give it to the county as part of the demobilization of their oil facility there.”
The News-Press contacted the State Water Board for comment, but officials did not reply before press deadline. Though it is unclear and unconfirmed whether the Water Board or State Park officials will conduct an investigation, Mr. Campbell said he was told by a third party that officials are considering an investigation.
“I just learned recently that State Parks is investigating, finally, and that they are having discussions with the State Water Board,” Mr. Campbell said. “I have not heard anything directly from Parks, but we did hear from a third party that there are discussions going on.”