Sespe Cienega Restoration and Public Access Planning Project
Historically, artesian flows along the Santa Clara River near the City of Fillmore supported one of the most extensive freshwater wetland complexes in the lower watershed referred to as the “Cienega” or “Sespe Cienega”. By 2005, the majority of the wetland area had been converted to farmland. Since 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has owned a majority of the Sespe Cienega, consisting of the California Watercress property and the Fillmore Fish Hatchery. The goal of this planning effort at Sespe Cienega is to develop working plans to restore riparian and wetland habitats and natural river function to this property under permanent protection by CDFW, and to provide public access to the river for the communities of Fillmore, Santa Paula, and Piru. Restoration of riparian habitat at the project site will include willow, cottonwood, and other wetland vegetation that have largely been lost on the property. The restoration will benefit wildlife, including federally-listed species such as Least Bell’s vireo, Southwestern willow flycatcher and Western yellow-billed cuckoo and other sensitive species such as Least bittern, Yellow rail, Northern harrier, and Tricolored blackbird. In addition, the federally-listed Southern California steelhead should benefit from the removal of Arundo donax on the property. The 2012 Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan identifies the Santa Clara River watershed as a Core I or highest priority watershed for recovery of the steelhead population.
Restoring the river to its natural and historical functions has additional benefits to the surrounding area by supporting sustainable agriculture, land conservation, and climate resilience. The planning process will be a joint effort among the Santa Clara River Conservancy (SCRC), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the State Coastal Conservancy, and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). The restoration and public access plan will include development of baseline environmental conditions; identification of data gaps; hydrologic analysis; vegetation surveys; listed, special status and sensitive species surveys; identification of restoration opportunities and constraints; public outreach meetings; development of conceptual restoration and public access alternatives, and selection of a preferred alternative; identification of permitting and environmental review requirements; and completion of engineering design and specifications. The plans for public access improvements will include design of interpretative displays and walking trails that will allow for public access to and along the Santa Clara River. The surrounding communities are currently isolated from the river. “