Branciforte Creek on California’s Central Coast is the last tributary of the San Lorenzo River before it flows to the Pacific Ocean. The creek enters the river about a mile from the coast and within the tidally-influenced reach of the river in downtown Santa Cruz. The lower 10 percent of the 11-square-mile Branciforte Creek watershed is mostly urban where it flows through a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control channel managed by the city of Santa Cruz. The upper watershed is rural residential, with some larger parcels of timberland, agriculture, and other lands uses, including a conference facility and parks.
Central California Coast steelhead juveniles have been observed throughout Branciforte Creek, but barriers limit access to the upper reaches. The National Marine Fisheries Service 2012 Coho Recovery Plan identified Branciforte Creek as a high priority reintroduction area and one of the highest priority sub-watersheds within the San Lorenzo watershed. Historically, coho occurred in the creek, but scientists believe they may have been extirpated during the three-year construction of the flood control channel.
Santa Cruz Resources Conservation District (RCD) has partnered with the city to restore steelhead access to Branciforte Creek and recover coho. By 2021, the Santa Cruz RCD has a goal of removing five additional structures, including two obsolete flashboard dams and concrete debris at the Happy Valley Conference Center and two abandoned concrete diversion dams that block fish passage on another property. The dam owners and nearby neighbors support these projects. Planned projects include the removal of a collapsed bridge and two additional rock dams identified in the county survey as high-priority barriers to fish passage.