Santa Clara River (California)

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This article is about the Santa Clara River in California. For the Santa Clara River in Utah, see Santa Clara River (Utah).
Coordinates: 34°14′07″N 119°15′49″W / 34.23528°N 119.26361°W / 34.23528; -119.26361
Santa Clara River
Rancho Camulos aerial view 1888.jpg
View of Santa Clara River with Rancho Camulos in the foreground, 1888
Country United States
State California
Counties Los Angeles, Ventura
 - right San Francisquito Creek, Castaic Creek, Piru Creek, Sespe Creek
Source San Gabriel Mountains
 - location Aliso Canyon, Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County
 - elevation 5,800 ft (1,768 m)
 - coordinates 34°26′01″N 118°21′51″W / 34.43361°N 118.36417°W / 34.43361; -118.36417 [1]
Mouth Pacific Ocean
 - location Between Ventura and Oxnard, Ventura County
 - elevation 0 ft (0 m)
 - coordinates 34°14′07″N 119°15′49″W / 34.23528°N 119.26361°W / 34.23528; -119.26361 [1]
Length 83 mi (134 km)
Basin 1,600 sq mi (4,144 km2)
Discharge for Ventura
 - average 176 cu ft/s (5 m3/s) [2]
 - max 165,000 cu ft/s (4,672 m3/s) [3]
 - min 0 cu ft/s (0 m3/s) [2][note 1]
Map of the Santa Clara River watershed
Location of the mouth of the Santa Clara River in California

The Santa Clara River is 83 miles (134 km) long,[4] located in southern California in the United States. Flowing east to west, the watershed drains the coastal mountains of the transverse ranges north of Los Angeles. The Santa Clara is one of the largest river systems along the coast of Southern California and one of the few remaining river systems in the region that remain in a mostly natural state. The northern basin of this river was home to the Tataviam people.


The Santa Clara River's headwaters take drainage from the northern slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains near the Angeles Forest Highway, inside the western part of the Angeles National Forest. Its largest fork, Aliso Canyon, is about 7 miles (11 km) long and forms the primary headstream. These branches combine into the broad wash of the main stem near the town of Acton which flows west through Soledad Canyon, crossing under California State Route 14 near the town of Canyon Country. The river receives Bouquet Creek, Placerita Creek and San Francisquito Creek at the city of Santa Clarita, though in practice the river remains dry most of the year, except on extreme occasions of heavier than average rainfall. The river then crosses west under Interstate 5 and receives Castaic Creek from the right.

After the Castaic Creek confluence, the river starts to flow primarily southwest through the Santa Clara River Valley, past Buckhorn and Fillmore, incorporating additional flow from Piru Creek and Sespe Creek, both from the right, and Santa Paula Creek at the town of Santa Paula, where it passes the large South Mountain Oil Field on the south bank. The Santa Clara River then bends southwest, passing the Saticoy Oil Field on the north bank where South Mountain marks its entrance onto the broad Oxnard Plain. The river ends at the Pacific Ocean after flowing across the north side of this plain made fertile with the silt deposited by the river. A sand bar usually stands across the mouth at the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve[5] that lies within McGrath State Beach in Oxnard and bounded on the north by the city of Ventura.

Aerial view of the Santa Clara River at Piru


Although located just north of the heavily populated Los Angeles Basin, the 1,600-square-mile (4,100 km2) Santa Clara River watershed remains one of the most natural on the South Coast. It is separated from the Los Angeles Basin by the low Santa Susana Mountains, along the north side of which the Santa Clara River runs. On the east are the San Gabriel Mountains, and on the north are the Santa Ynez Mountains and Tehachapi Mountains. Piru, Castaic and Sespe Creeks, each over 50 miles (80 km) long, are the primary tributaries of the Santa Clara River. While Piru and Castaic Creeks form reservoirs for the California State Water Project (Pyramid Lake and Lake Piru on Piru Creek, and Elderberry Forebay and Castaic Lake on Castaic Creek), Sespe Creek is designated a National Wild and Scenic River, unique among Southern California streams. There are 57 archaeological sites and 12 historical landmarks in the watershed.[6]

The Santa Clara River watershed borders on the Ventura River/Matilija Creek watershed on the west. On the northwest, lies the Santa Ynez River watershed. On the north is the interior drainage basin of Tulare Lake in the Central Valley. To the east is the Mojave River and to the south is the Los Angeles River. The Santa Clara River is the second largest river in Southern California; the larger one is the Santa Ana River.

Fisherman with catch of steelhead in lower Sespe Creek, by William A. Brown, winter, 1911


The river is habitat for threatened species such as the unarmored three-spined stickleback, steelhead, southwestern pond turtle, and least Bell's vireo. In 2002, eight Southwest willow flycatchers hatched in the Hedrick Ranch Nature Area (HRNA), a 220 acre preserve just east of Santa Paula managed by the Friends of Santa Clara River. The first SWFs to hatch on the river in recent times was at the Fillmore Fish Hatchery in 2000.[7]

Historic documentation of an important recreational steelhead trout (Oncorhyncus mykiss) fishery occurs for the Santa Clara River into the mid 1900s.[8] The steelhead trout run on the Santa Clara river prior to 1940 is estimated to have had thousands of fish and to have been one of the largest steelhead runs in southern California.[9] Construction of the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam and other migration barriers on the mainstem, Santa Paula Creek, Sespe Creek, Piru Creek, and other tributaries during the mid 1900s appear to be correlated with the demise of the steelhead run as habitat availability decreased and surface flows decreased.[8][9] Adult steelhead still try to migrate up the river with an adult trapped at the Vern Freeman Dam in 2001. A wild rainbow trout population still exists in the headwaters of the Santa Paula, Sespe, Hopper, and Piru Creek tributaries and is producing out-migrating steelhead smolts bound for the Pacific.[8] However, challenges to outgoing smolt migration include low to no stream flows downstream of the dam or predation in the coastal estuary.[10] Genetic analysis of the steelhead in the Santa Clara River watershed has shown them to be of native and not hatchery stocks.[11]

Pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) used to roam along the Santa Clara River, as Father Pedro Font, describe in his diary on the de Anza Expedition February 1776, "We saw in the plain a very large drove of antelopes which, as soon as they saw us, fled like the wind, looking like a cloud skimming along the earth."[12] Also for antelope, there is a Ventureño word for antelope: q'aq, which is different from their separate words for deer and elk.(personal communication with Timothy Henry, January 30, 2011)

Quagga mussels became established in the Lake Piru and then downstream in the Santa Clara River in 2013. They are an invasive species found in rivers and lakes in the U.S.[13]

The Santa Clara-Mojave River Ranger District of the Angeles National Forest is named after the Santa Clara River.

Water Quality[edit]

In 2012, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board required the Counties of Ventura and Los Angeles together with cities along river to limit the total maximum daily load of bacteria potentially harmful to human health that discharges from stormwater outfalls into the Santa Clara River, primarily during the dry season. Sources of bacteria of concern in urban runoff from the County, City of Fillmore, City of Oxnard, City of Santa Clarita, City of Santa Paula, and City of Ventura include pet and animal wastes, sanitary sewer overflows, and organic debris such as leaves and grass. Examples of ways they will improve water quality include increased frequencies of street sweeping and stormwater catch basin cleaning; field surveys to locate and eliminate both dry season street runoff and leaks from the sanitary sewer systems; and enhanced public education.[14]

River bed and riparian land use[edit]

The city of Ventura daily releases some 9,000,000 US gallons (34,000,000 l; 7,500,000 imp gal) of treated effluent that flows into the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve from their treatment plant on the north bank of the river.[15] The estuary is within McGrath State Beach on the south bank of the river mouth. A sand berm separates the river from the ocean most of the year. In years with adequate rainfall, the river breaks the berm which is then slowly rebuilt by ocean action through the rest of the year. When the river watershed is exceptionally dry, the discharge causes flooding of the access road and many of the campsites in the state park. In August 2014, they found that the park had only been open five of the past eighteen months because of repeated flooding.[16] When the berm is broken when it is not raining, fish can become stranded in the sudden draining of the estuary waters.[17]

The Harbor Boulevard bridge crosses the river marking the upstream boundary of McGrath State Beach and the treatment plant. The bridge abutments form the river channel limits but in 1969 the river crossed the north bank, flowed across a new golf course and Harbor Boulevard, and deposited silt and debris into recently constructed Ventura Harbor.[18]

The riparian natural areas that remain along the river are of interest to several conservancy organizations. Over the years, many communities have used the river banks as dumps to create levees that would keep the river from flooding adjacent lands during occasional years with heavy winter rains. Three dump sites about 2 miles (3.2 km) upstream from the mouth eventually came under the control of the Ventura Regional Sanitation District by 1988. The district used the landfill gases to produce electricity until 2001. As the landfill aged and its contents decomposed, the release of gas became intermittent and the gases from the recovery system, built just upstream of the Victoria Avenue bridge, are burned off in a flare.[19]

The riverbed was mined extensively for sand and gravel throughout the post–World War II building boom for the construction of homes and highways. This decreased significantly in the 1990s due to increased costs needed to satisfy environmental concerns and concerns that the removal of material increased scouring and undermining of bridge foundations and pipelines that crossed the river.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The river is heavily dependent on seasonal rains, so its flow is often zero.


  1. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Santa Clara River
  2. ^ a b "USGS Gage #11114000 on the Santa Clara River at Montalvo, CA (Monthly Averages)". National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1928–2004. Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  3. ^ "USGS Gage #11114000 on the Santa Clara River at Montalvo, CA (Peak Streamflow)". National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1932–2004. Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  4. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed March 16, 2011
  5. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve
  6. ^ "California Protected Areas Data Portal" GreenInfo Network San Francisco California
  7. ^ "Eight Willow Flycatchers Fledge at Hedrick Ranch Nature Area". Friends of Santa Clara River. 2001-01-04. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  8. ^ a b c Matt Stoecker and Elise Kelley (Dec 2005). Santa Clara River Steelhead Trout: Assessment and Recovery Opportunities (Report). The Santa Clara River Trustee Council and The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved June 7, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Moore, Mark (1980). An Assessment of the Impacts of the Proposed Improvements to the Vern Freeman Diversion on Anadromous Fishes of the Santa Clara River System, Ventura County, California (Report). Ventura County Environmental Resources under contract 670. Retrieved June 7, 2010.
  10. ^ Elise Kelley. Steelhead Trout Smolt Survival in the Santa Clara and Santa Ynez River Estuaries (Report). California Department of Fish and Game Fisheries Restoration Grant Program. Retrieved June 7, 2010.
  11. ^ Anthony J. Clemento, Eric C. Anderson, David Boughton, Derek Girman, John Carlos Garza (2009). "Population genetic structure and ancestry of Oncorhynchus mykiss populations above and below dams in south-central California". Conservation Genetics: 1321–1336. Retrieved 2011-06-11. 
  12. ^ Pedro Font. Expanded Diary of Pedro Font. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  13. ^ Coyne, Alasdair (January 27, 2014) "Quagga mussels loose in Santa Clara watershed" Ventura County Star
  14. ^ Administrative Report (October 27, 2014) "Memorandum of Agreement to Improve Water Quality in the Santa Clara River" City of San Buenaventura City Council
  15. ^ Clerici, Kevin (August 17, 2011) "Ventura reaches settlement, agrees to reuse millions of gallons of highly treated sewage water" Ventura County Star
  16. ^ Carlson, Cheri (August 25, 2014) "Campground flooded, closes again" Ventura County Star
  17. ^ Carlson, Cheri (February 11, 2014) "Sandy berm breached near McGrath State Beach campground" Ventura County Star
  18. ^ Meyers, Jeff (November 1, 1990) "An Era of Sail Lies Anchored in Two Harbors : Boating: Ventura County shoreline took on greater appeal with construction of marinas in Ventura and Oxnard." Los Angeles Times
  19. ^ McGrath, Rachel (September 4, 2014) "Sanitation district to pay $466,000 penalty for landfill gas violations" Ventura County Star
  20. ^ McCartney, Patrick (August 31, 1993) "Gravel Producer Drops Plans for Mining River : Environment: Granite Construction decides that regulations would make it too costly to extract rocks and sand from the Santa Clara." Los Angeles Times

External links[edit]