Two Southern California water agencies have hired a conservation group to restore sensitive habitat along the Santa Ana River for the benefit of the Santa Ana Sucker and other native fish.

The $125,000 restoration project, to be undertaken by the Riverside Corona Resource Conservation District, involves removing non-native plants, trash and debris and recontouring the streambed of the Tequesquite Arroyo where it intersects with the Santa Ana River in the City of Riverside.

The project is the first of its kind to be paid for using money from a special habitat conservation fund that was set up four years ago by San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and Western Municipal Water District when the agencies were seeking state approval of new water rights along the Santa Ana River.

The California Department of Fish and Game initially opposed the request for new water rights, but withdrew its opposition when Valley District and Western agreed to set up a Restoration/Recovery Trust Fund to pay for endangered species habitat restoration and recovery efforts. The two water agencies have already contributed $250,000 to the habitat restoration fund since it was formed in 2007 and have pledged to continue making annual payments of $50,000 through 2016.

Funds cannot be spent from the Restoration/Recovery Trust Fund, however, without the approval of the state Department of Fish and Game and the water districts. The state agency approved the use of habitat conservation funds for the Tequesquite project in September.

“Water agencies have been paying for research, habitat restoration and other conservation efforts to benefit the Santa Ana Sucker and other endangered species for more than a decade, but this is the first time the Department of Fish and Game has approved a project that uses money from the Restoration/Recovery Trust Fund we set up at the department’s request four years ago,” said Douglas Headrick, general manager of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.

The Tequesquite Arroyo habitat conservation work is expected to commence as soon as the Riverside Corona Resource Conservation District obtains various easements so that the restored habitat can be maintained in perpetuity.

Water agencies have been working with the Santa Ana Sucker Conservation Team for the past several years to identify additional projects that would benefit the Sucker and other endangered fish, including the Speckled Dace and the Arroyo Chub.

The Tequesquite Arroyo project itself is a scaled down version of a similar

project that Valley District and Western proposed in a grant application to the Department of Fish and Game last summer.

The two water agencies also submitted a grant proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which sought federal funds to help fund a study of the genetics of the Santa Ana Sucker population to determine how best to develop a recovery plan for the species.

Details on the Tequesquite Arroyo habitat recovery project are available at www.sbvmwd.com.