Two wildlife advocacy groups Wednesday announced their intent to sue the Riverside County Flood Control & Water Conservation District, as well as other regional and federal government agencies, for allegedly putting a fish species’ habitat at risk with the release of water from the Seven Oaks Dam.
According to the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, the outflows that started on May 11 and continued for several days resulted in high sediment levels that disrupted the spawning activity of Santa Ana sucker fish, which populate the Santa Ana River, coursing through Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
According to the CPD, which is partnering with the Endangered Habitats League in the lawsuit, foraging grounds were overwhelmed with muck and debris, damaging the sucker’s food supply and smothering fishes’ eggs.
The water remained turbid for three months after the dam release, according to CPD officials.
Riverside County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. on the pending legal action, which also names the Orange County Public Works Department, San Bernardino County Department of Public Works and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“This irresponsible action pushed these iconic Southern California fish closer to extinction,” said Ileene Anderson, a scientist at the center. “These agencies must be held accountable for violating the law and ignoring warnings from federal wildlife officials. It’s sad and frustrating to see this happen when so much time and effort have been spent trying to save this wonderful species.”
The Seven Oaks Dam is near the headwater to the Santa Ana River, roughly eight miles northeast of Redlands. The mid-May controlled water dumps involved 700 cubic feet per second flows downstream, according to the CBD. The organization said the release would have been mitigated had it immediately followed a storm, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommended that local authorities wait until a change in the weather, but the advice was ignored.
“If implemented correctly, management of the Santa Ana River system can successfully combine flood control with preserving wildlife values and the citizens’ natural heritage,” said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League. “However, releases should not be done during the Santa Ana sucker fish’s spawning season.”
The sucker is on the federal Endangered Species List. The species has been a source of conflict for decades, with regional water agencies filing civil actions in an attempt to reduce regulations that prevent access to fresh water stocks in order to preserve fish spawning areas.
In 2015, the agencies petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing, but it was denied.
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