Hard to believe, but Malibu Creek in Southern California (just 25 miles outside LA), used to be one heck of a steelhead fishery. It is thought that this small stream once held runs of sea-run rainbows that numbered a thousand or more, and supposedly Hollywood heavies like Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy liked to like to fish for them. Now days, however, we’re lucky if a dozen fish return to spawn each year.
Of course, habitat loss and water diversions caused by human encroachment have a lot to do with the steelhead’s decline on Malibu Creek, but nothing has had a more dramatic effect on the run as Rindge Dam.
Built in the 1920’s, the 100-foot high structure sits only 2.5 miles above the ocean and blocks off another 6-8 miles of good spawning and rearing habitat. I’ve pulled off the road and checked out the dam — at once an impressive structure but also very depressing sight. The good news is there’s been a lot of talk by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others about removing the dam, which is completely silted in and useless, but there are a couple little problems:
1) The estimated cost of dam removal is over $18 million. There are various places some money could come from such as Cal-Fed (and even the DFG has talked of using some of the money raised by the Steelhead Report Card Program), but it’s not going to be easy to get this baby fully funded.
2) How do you get rid of the estimated 800,000 to 1,600,000 cubic yards of sediment that’s built up behind the dam and what do you do with it?
As studies continue, the steelhead population in the creek keeps hanging on by the barest of threads. If only we could get some of the uber-rich Hollywood types who live along the creek to pitch in some $$…
Malibu Creek isn’t the only stream down here that used to have good suns of steelhead. The Los Angeles River, the Ventura River, San Mateo Creek and even streams in San Diego once produced anadramous rainbows.