Santa Clara River Watershed Ecology

What do you think when you hear ‘Santa Clara River’? Wide dry wash? Rumbling rushing water? The Santa Clara River is the dominant topographic feature of Ventura County, longer in length and larger in flow than any other water course in the county and beyond. It is the least altered, most natural river left in the southern half of the state and home to many many endangered and common plant and animal species. The condor flies above it and the coyote walks along it.  The steelhead swims within it and the willow grows around it.

Flowing river



Have you been to the Santa Clara River?  There are not many allowable ways to visit. Much of the River through Ventura County is surrounded by private land, farms or fenced off by the flood control agency. Instead of perceiving and integrating the river as a resource, it is treated as a dangerous foe, something to be controlled and feared.

Sierra Club thinks different. We want the River to be a natural resource for the benefit of the environment and people.  If it is allowed to behave as it is supposed to, its waters will sustain people, plants and animals. Come along with us to learn about and explore the Santa Clara River!  We take hikes, lead enviro science outings, bring classes and even do basic nature photo workshops on river locations publicly open or with special permission of landowners.

A group of volunteers in a dry river bed


Sierra Club advocates for the Santa Clara River Parkway, planned by California State Coastal Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy as a future public ecologic and recreational area. Started in 2000, there are now thousands of acres along the river are already set aside for the parkway; learn more about this parkway online at:

Sierra Club held a public conference in 2016 called Santa Clara River Parkway: Past, Present and Future. The informative speakers’ presentations and a short conference highlight video are also online and a great way to learn about the project:


Hedrick Ranch Nature Area (HRNA) is under ownership of Friends of the Santa Clara River and its 220 acres are being completely restored with support of volunteers and funding from state grants. Sierra Club is helping eradicate invasive plants, install native plants and enjoying seeing the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo come back to the habitat! Adjoining parcels owned by The Nature Conservancy and County of Ventura are next so there’s plenty to do for many years!

A volunteer in the Hedrick Ranch Nature Area


Coastal Clean Up Day is always the 3rd Saturday in September and the only site in the entire state run by Sierra Club is the Santa Clara River Gateway (Johnson/Hwy 101). This is a fun and rewarding event and a great place to discover a little wilderness right in our backyard. In 4 years we’ve taken 2 tons of trash out of the river and kept it from fouling the nearby beach and estuary.  

Volunteer participating in a river cleanup


Sierra Club knows the Santa Clara River is a vital source of water, to both native plants and animals as well as for people. Indeed it is the largest local source of water in the County and feeds the groundwater basins from Piru to Oxnard.  We want to achieve the water balance that sustains both the environment and humans. Achieving that balance is a work in progress and that’s why we have a representative helping guide the groundwater management agencies in the mid- and upper-Santa Clara River groundwater basins.

Even as groundwater dwindles, flows in the Santa Clara River are rushed to the sea due to increased confinement by levees and pavement. It’s proven that flood control ruins water quality, creates blight, kills riparian environments, and drives many species to endangered status.  Sierra Club is opposed to old fashioned short-sighted flood control projects and is hard at work bringing better answers to the cities and county for stormwater conservation.


California Trout has produced a mini-documentary (10 mins) on how they and their partners are coorperating to improve the Santa Clara River and how they are working to recover the endangered Southern California Steelhead. Watch here:

From California Trout:

The Santa Clara River Steelhead Coalition currently serves as a vehicle for coordination among agency programs and private sector activities across jurisdictions to target high priority projects, and to improve the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of Southern California steelhead recovery in the Santa Clara River watershed. The Coalition is also exploring opportunities to secure and provide funding for steelhead restoration projects and extensive public engagement and outreach.

By combining the experience and knowledge from a broad spectrum of fish passage improvement, biodiversity and water conservation proponents and projects, Coalition members are able to work more efficiently and in a highly coordinated fashion to identify and remedy technical and procedural obstacles as they arise.