Canyon Creek restoration package helps endangered fish and brings water to homes – Daily News

Bouquet Canyon Creek flows along Bouquet Canyon Road Wednesday, September 13, 2023. The Los Angeles Department of Public Works has plans for a multi-year project to mitigate flooding from the road and improve water flow and fish habitat in the creek. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

In an eight-mile stretch of a damaged creek in unincorporated Santa Clarita, the connections between people, nature, water supplies and the survival of rare fish have been eroded by climate change.

“This is a story about climate resilience,” summed up Kerjon Lee, spokesman for Los Angeles County Public Works, the lead agency on a multi-faceted project aimed at restoring a severely degraded section of Bouquet Canyon Creek to serve multiple populations and goals.

“We’re trying to make meaningful changes to protect resources,” Lee said. “But it’s also about getting the water source to the communities downstream.”

The project recently received a $12 million grant to begin planning and design. The money was awarded to Public Works last week by the California Wildlife Conservation Board. Construction is expected to begin in late 2024, according to the Public Works Company.

“This is a large, complex effort,” said Anish Saraya, planning deputy for Los Angeles District 5 Supervisor Katherine Barger, who helped the county secure the grant.

The project has several interconnected goals: flood control, habitat restoration, and restoring safe and reliable water flow to downstream wells for homeowners cut off from their water sources.

First, the project will attempt to restore an eight-mile section of the creek partly within unincorporated Santa Clarita, extending south from the Bouquet Canyon Reservoir managed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and through the far western section. From the Loos National Forest.

Forest fires over the past 20 years, intensified by climate change, have denuded vegetation in the area, especially on the valley slopes. Rainfall, which has become more intense in recent years, caused widespread erosion, washing tons of branches, rocks, silt, dirt and clay into the natural creek, creating an impermeable layer that prevented the creek from transporting water. Even small releases from the tank eventually end up bypassing the road, leading to frequent street flooding, county officials explained.

“Water collects on the surface of the road,” he explained to me. “It’s an important road where people live side by side and it’s a connection between the city of Santa Clarita and Lake Hughes.”

The project involves removing sediment from the creek while designing a new layout that accommodates reservoir flows as well as natural storm surges, Public Works spokesman Stephen Frasher wrote in an email. The plan also includes raising the elevation of Bouquet Canyon Road by two feet, he wrote.

Secondly, another goal of the project is to fully restore the carrying capacity of the creek. This will help about 150 homeowners who were unable to get water from the creek in its damaged state. Water is supposed to be released at certain intervals from the upstream dam and fill private wells by recharging groundwater.

“All those people who relied on that water still don’t have access to water,” said Diane Hellriegel, who started the Santa Clarita Community Hiking Club. “One homeowner had a greenhouse where he grew poinsettias and that was part of their income.” Many affected homeowners had to truck in water, even to flush toilets, Hellriegel said.

Third, the project will focus on restoring the creek’s natural characteristics so it can fully support the three-spined, non-armored stickleback fish. (Gasterosteus aculeatus williamsoni).

Sticklebacks are listed as a federally endangered species and are found only in limited places in Southern California, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“What we are proposing is not just removing sediments, but also restoring the habitat,” Saraya said. “We want to take a comprehensive approach.”

This approach involves including root structures made of trees, logs and rocks that provide habitat for fish to lay eggs, Frasher wrote. Fire-damaged slopes will be restored, using coastal sage scrub in the higher areas and annual grasslands in the lower areas. Non-native and invasive plants will be removed from the river and banks.

Hillrigel said she saw trout swimming in Bouquet Canyon Creek.

“Right now, there’s a lot of debris and brush and things are a mess. But hopefully this will turn into something good, and the sooner the better.”

The construction cost and completion date have not been determined.

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