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Court backs environmentalists efforts to help endangered steelhead on Central Coast

Bill Oxford
An appeals court is supporting efforts by environmentalists to secure more water releases from a Central Coast dam to support steelhead habitat.

Panel says water agencies must release more water from Twitchell Dam to help fish.

A court ruled in favor of environmentalists who filed a lawsuit seeking additional water releases from a Central Coast dam to help endangered steelhead fish.

A coalition of groups sued the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, and the Santa Maria Water Conservation District. The suit contended the agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by limiting water releases from Twitchell Dam into the Santa Maria River. They contended that limited releases are harming the imperiled fish.

The agencies asserted they were limited in their ability to release water from the dam for the fish by the legislation which authorized the dam. The bill says the dam is to be used for irrigation, conservation, and flood control.

But, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the dam’s operators need to meet the legal requirements, as well as complying with the Endangered Species Act. The court opinion says they have the discretion to adjust water releases.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.