Branciforte Creek barriers

Restoring creek for steelhead and coho

About the Project

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 are present 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. Santa Cruz RCD removed two dams in 2013 prior to launch of Open Rivers Fund, and in 2021 removed three additional dams, and plans to remove the two more dams in the next few years. The dam owners and nearby neighbors support these projects, which include removal of obsolete flashboard, rock, and concrete dams, concrete debris at the Happy Valley Conference Center, and , a collapsed bridge, all identified by the county as high-priority barriers to fish passage.

Owner: Multiple private landowners
Size: 5 structures of varying size
Project Cost: $1.2 million
ORF Investment: Project management, design and permitting, monitoring
Miles Opened: 1.91 miles
Fish: California Central Coast Coho and steelhead
Status: 3 dams removed in 2021 and 2 scheduled for removal in 2025/26

  • Open 1.91 miles of stream to fish passage with removal of five structures
  • Improve downstream habitat with replenished sediment and gravels, woody debris, and cooler temperatures for coho and steelhead
  • Demonstrate streamlined and cost-efficient programmatic permitting for potential application to other dam removal projects
  • Reduce maintenance costs for private landowners and city of Santa Cruz
  • Reduce flooding in the city of Santa Cruz
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Project Partners

County of Santa Cruz Resource Conservation District

California State Coastal Conservancy

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

California Coastal Commission

National Marine Fisheries Service

S. Fish and Wildlife Service

S. Army Corps of Engineers

S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service

Santa Cruz County

City of Santa Cruz