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Fish ladder opens on a Woodside creek

Cal Water replaces 19th-century dam that had blocked passage for all fish.

The public cannot visit the fish ladder that had its grand opening on Thursday, April 5, on Bear Gulch Creek in Woodside – the device is located on private property – but perhaps it's comforting to know that the trout known as steelhead that are born in the upper waters of the creek now have a clear path home to spawn.

Over 10 months and at a cost of nearly $3 million, the California Water Service Company replaced a 19th-century dam that had blocked passage for all fish. The new system includes a serpentine series of water-filled concrete enclosures that allow fish to bypass the dam, Cal Water officials said.

Steelhead trout, unlike their cousins the rainbow trout, migrate to the ocean and return to their home creeks to spawn, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles. Because steelhead do not die after spawning, as happens with salmon, they can make the round-trip more than once, according to the fisheries office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Cal Water, which provides drinking water for Atherton, Portola Valley, most of Woodside and parts of Menlo Park and Redwood City, worked with the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies to protect the habitat for the fish in this particular creek, the company said.

During times when the creek has a sufficient flow, the company can draw and treat drinking water at about a quarter of the cost of buying it from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, a savings that "is passed through directly to our customers," the company said in a statement.

The fish ladder system gets priority, diverting water to maintain a minimum flow rate of about 750 gallons a minute, the company said. A camera is available to monitor for debris that could interfere with the ladder's operation.

Company officials report occasions of seeing migrating fish of varying stages of maturity in all the water-filled concrete enclosures, said Dawn Smithson, manager of Cal Water's Bear Gulch District.

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