Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 11, 2022


Ileene Anderson, (323) 490-0223,

Report: Southern California’s Signature River Under Threat

Utom, or Santa Clara River, Features More Than 110 Special-Status Species

LOS ANGELES— A new report published today called on decision-makers in Ventura and Los Angeles counties to apply sustainable water-management practices to the Santa Clara River, known as Utom to the Chumash people.

Released by the Center for Biological Diversity, the State of Utom 2022 identifies the main threats to, and conservation goals for, the 116-mile river that stretches from the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County to the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County. It’s the largest watershed in Southern California and home to more than 110 special-status animals and plants. The river is under threat of development, water diversions and other harmful practices that could decimate the habitat of fish like the unarmored threespine stickleback, California red-legged frogs, and other sensitive species.

“Southern California is extremely lucky to have a gem like Utom, and we have to take care to conserve it,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center. “Over-pumping of the watershed and encroaching development could quickly turn this biological hotspot into a faint memory. Thankfully we have a roadmap to ensure the future of this one-of-a-kind river.”

The report, which outlines key strategies for long-term watershed protection, comes five years after a landmark settlement was reached on Newhall Ranch, a development along six miles of Utom. Conservation groups including the Center, Wishtoyo Foundation, and California Native Plant Society, along with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, challenged the residential and commercial development for decades. In 2017 an agreement was reached that reduced the footprint of the project, secured solar and electrical vehicle infrastructure, and preserved thousands of acres of wildlife habitat.

Since then conservation groups have also secured protection for the endangered steelhead at the Vern Freeman Dam, blocked a Los Angeles County development from paving over a creek that feeds into Utom, and launched scholarships worth $100,000 for students dedicated to protecting the watershed.

Utom, or Phantom River, was named by the Chumash people because its water flow can come and go like a phantom. To protect the ecological health of the watershed, the report calls for policies that prohibit development in sensitive areas along the river, reduce groundwater pumping, and encourage regional water recycling and other water-conservation strategies.

Utom, or Santa Clara River, runs from the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County to the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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