Libby Smith

Salsipuedes Creek Fish Ladders

Jalama Road and Salsipuedes Creek Watershed

Jalama Road and Salsipuedes Creek Watershed

by Libby Smith

If you take Jalama Road, off Highway One you’ll pass through beautiful farm and ranch land and eventually end up at Jalama Beach State Park , a destination for surfing, camping and hamburgers.  You’ll also be driving alongside Salsipuedes Creek, the longest tributary of the lower Santa Ynez River before it reaches the ocean.  The creek is  nearly 10 miles long and flows from it’s headwaters in the Santa Ynez Mountains northward to where Jalama Road meets Highway One and along Highway One to meet the Santa Ynez River just east of Lompoc.

 

Fish Ladder, Salsipuedes Creek

Fish Ladder, Salsipuedes Creek

This summer, Nina, Nicole and I went searching for two fish ladders we’d heard were stationed along the creek. The Santa Ynez River used to support one of the largest Southern Steelhead Trout migrations in Southern California with estimations of 13,000 to 25,000 fish in the 1940s. Since then, dams have impeded their journey and landed them a spot on the endangered list. The Southern Steelhead Trout is the “anadromous” form of the Coastal Rainbow Trout, which means that it spends time in the ocean and then needs to migrate back up fresh water rivers and creeks to spawn. These ladders were built to help the dwindling numbers of trout get back up to their spawning pools and creeks.

 

Salsipuedes Creek is thought to be one of the best trout habitats in the Santa Ynez River watershed and Steelhead have been known to survive in small, isolated pools during dry periods. so we thought we might get lucky and see some of these trout if we could find the fish ladders and their pools.

After trial and error, stopping over several bridges to look into the canyon we found the ladders.  One, near where Jalama Road meets Highway One and the other .5 mile north along Highway One. Both were steep scrambles down through scrub and poison oak (yes, one of us did get poison oak)  but we found  a peaceful, secluded world below the highway full of wildflowers, birds, pond turtles and hundreds of small fry fish! Some could be Steelhead Trout!

If you go watch out for the poison oak!

Jalama Bridge Fish Ladder     

Jalama Bridge Fish Ladder

 

Marsh, Wetlands, Slough, Delta, Estuary, Cove, Bay, Lagoon?

 

Don’t forget your binoculars!

 

by Libby Smith

The mouth of the Santa Ynez River opens up west of Lompoc and spreads out in a wide body of water before emptying into the ocean at Ocean Beach Park.  The river travels 92 miles through canyons, campgrounds, cities, farms, ranches and several dams to end up at a wild and remote area known for fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing.  Low tide, high tide, morning, evening it’s so different every time I go!

What’s this large body of water called-marsh, slough, delta?  Geologists define it as an estuary, a partially enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers flowing into it with a connection to the sea. I call it great bird watching!  An estuary can also be called a bay, lagoon, sound or slough. 

Estuary Birds

Estuary Birds

The estuary at Ocean Beach is a Bar Built estuary, which is created when sandbars are formed due to ocean currents pushing sand and sediment towards the shore.  Low volume rivers flowing into the area form a lagoon when unable to push through the sandbar.  After the first heavy winter rains, watch the river break through the sand bar and flow into the sea!

Estuaries form a brackish transition zone between fresh water and salt water and provide an environment for plants and animals that can’t survive in rivers or oceans. This makes for a unique and productive habitat and a great opportunity to see a variety of plants, mammals and birds.  I usually see egrets, terns, cormorants, herons, pelicans and hawks when I visit.

Santa Ynez River Estuary, Looking West

Santa Ynez River Estuary, Looking West

To visit Ocean Beach Park, take Highway 246 (West Ocean Ave) towards the coast and turn right on Ocean Park Road to the park entrance. The park is open 8:00AM to sunset.  Don’t forget your binoculars!

Note: The beach is closed from March 1 to September 30 for Snowy Plover nesting season but the estuary is always open.

River Meets Sea, Surf Beach

River Meets Sea, Surf Beach

February Rains

Up 31 feet

This was not supposed to be a wet year, in fact it has been called a La Nina year but look at what has happened so far and we're still in February!

The painting below was inspired by what I saw in November 2016, when Lake Cachuma Reservoir was at 7% of capacity. The following image is a photograph from nearly the same spot, taken on February 19, 2017 after the last big storm.

Low Lake, oil on canvas, 12x36"

Low Lake, oil on canvas, 12x36"

After Storm

After Storm

By Monday, February 20 the reservoir was at 40% capacity, rising 31 feet! Some speculate Lake Cachuma could reach 50% capacity within a couple of weeks as rain and run-off make their way through the watershed and into the lake. The last time the lake was at 50% capacity was in 2014.

Friday's storm was the heaviest in 7 years, dropping 10 inches at Gibraltar Reservoir and San Marcos Pass. According to Santa Barbara County Flood Control District, the totals for February are - Bradbury Dam (Cachuma Dam) 10.5 inches, Gibraltar Dam 12.96 inches and San Marcos Pass 17.45 inches. That's impressive and another storm is predicted for this weekend!

How appropriate for the month of February to deliver so much rain, after all, it is known by the Zodiac Calendar as the month of the Water-bearer.