Efforts by Inland Empire water agencies to expand and secure habitat for a native fish species on the federal government’s endangered list have led to a larger, cleaner swimming hole for the creatures.
The Tequesquite Arroyo, a storm channel that overflows into the Santa Ana River in Riverside, has been cleared of large quantities of debris and other fish that pose a threat to the Santa Ana sucker, according to officials with the Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District.
The district, whose membership is comprised of area water agencies, has been working in recent months to make the arroyo an attractive spawning ground for the sucker and other native fish.
“Approximately one ton of trash was removed from the restoration site, including floating cups, paper, plastic bags, cans, bottles and other debris,” said RCRCD Resources Manager Kerwin Russell.
He said 123 exotic plants have been sprayed with herbicide or completely eradicated in the area to free up space, and more than 400 non-native fish were relocated to make room for the sucker, a few of which have already been spotted in the channel.
“It’s good to see the efforts that the water agencies are making in conservation of the fish pay off so quickly,” said Riverside Public Utilities General Manager Kevin Milligan.
John Rossi, head of the Western Municipal Water District said the restoration project’s benefits to the sucker were of the utmost importance, but equally so is “protecting a vital water supply for inland Southern California.”
The $125,000 restoration is focused on a 2,000-foot-long section of the arroyo.
Work is expected to continue through 2016 and will include measures to prevent trash flow and ensure the overall quality of the water.
Expanding sucker habitat led to a legal battle between regional water agencies and the Obama administration.
Under a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ruling in 2010, the protected space for the sucker was enlarged to 125,800-acre-feet of water along the Santa Ana and connecting waterways.
Area water agencies argued the expansion was unjustified and effectively cut off one-third of the region’s fresh water stocks for human use.
A federal judge upheld the government’s decision last year, but the water agencies have an appeal pending before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A hearing is set for June.