To the disappointment of local environmentalists, Stanford University has dropped plans to remove a concrete dam on Los Trancos Creek that blocks migrating steelhead trout from reaching their spawning grounds.
The decision means state Fish and Game Department officials will revive earlier plans to cut a fish ladder into the 29-year-old dam near Alpine and Arastradero roads.
The proposed ladder is designed to provide trout with a gradual series of steps to swim over the structure, which Stanford uses to divert water from the creek to Felt Lake for irrigation and firefighting on campus.
Bob Hockey, Stanford's construction manager, announced the decision last week during a meeting of a group formed last year to craft a long-term management and restoration plan for San Francisquito Creek and its surrounding watershed.
"We are committed to the movement of steelhead past the dam," Hockey said in an interview last week.
Despite Hockey's assurances, local environmentalists who would rather see the creek free of man-made obstacles expressed mild dismay at the announcement and greater frustration that its timing could delay construction of the ladder until next spring.
"We lost a year," explained Patricia Anderson, a Fish and Game biologist closely involved in the project. "That was the hard part . . . The fish ladder could have been in by now."
Fish and Game was ready last December with funding and a ladder design when Stanford said it would explore tearing down the dam and replacing it with pumps buried in gravel beneath the streambed, a system known as infiltration galleries.
Stanford said the high cost of operating and maintaining the fish ladder made it practical to consider the galleries.
After months of study, however, the university concluded that not enough water flows in the creek to enable the pumps to operate. And Stanford officials were philosophically opposed to supplying the electricity needed to run the galleries.
Anderson said it's possible the ladder still could be built this fall, but Fish and Game must reach an agreement with Stanford over how much water will be allowed to flow over the dam and through the device.
During some parts of the year, Stanford channels all the water from the creek, a practice that would leave fish high and dry.
The Los Trancos project is one of three that Fish and Game and local creek advocates have been attempting to construct for almost a decade in an effort to boost the dwindling population of steelhead.
The other projects include repairing a fish ladder at Lake Lagunita Dam in San Francisquito Creek, one of the South Bay's last steelhead runs, and creating better passage for the trout over a concrete flood control device near the point where El Camino Real spans the creek.
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