Horse Creek Dam: Six Years After it was Blown to Bits.
Measuring nine feet high and 60 feet wide, Horse Creek Dam was built in 1968 to capture debris flow following the large Wellman fire in the upper Sisquoc River drainage area. By the spring of 1969, the reservoir behind the dam was completely filled with debris and was no longer serving its purpose.
Since its construction, the dam has blocked the passage of steelhead and other aquatic species into seven miles of habitat above the dam and has also caused severe erosion downstream (Stoecker 2005).
Through the joint efforts of American Rivers and several partner agencies and organizations, the defunct Horse Creek Dam in the San Rafael Wilderness near Santa Barbara, CA, was demolished in October 2006 by a blasting crew. This momentous occasion set the precedent as the first successful dam removal project in Southern California that used explosives instead of heavy machinery. You can see amazing footage of blasting the dam in this short video or in this longer one that tells the whole story. Both were filmed and developed by Thomas Dunklin and Matt Stoecker.
Horse Creek Dam held back an estimated twenty thousand tons of sediment. After a record setting winter in 2011, 78 percent of this sediment has now washed downstream, improving habitat, and bringing back the fish.
During a snorkel survey in 2011, the California Department of Fish and Game found abundant arroyo chub (Gila orcuttii) in the lower reaches of Horse Creek and high densities of speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus) throughout the survey areas. Additional snorkel surveys in large pools at the confluence of Horse Creek and the Sisquoc River found several trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) including three specimen that ranged from 9 to 13 inches.
The high levels of sediment that was moved downstream and new-found presence of O. Mykiss trout and other aquatic life in Horse Creek found in a recent post-dam removal evaluation highlights the ongoing success of the project and continues to inspire work on future barrier removal projects in the state of California.