The Santa Barbara City Council authorized the spending of up to $100,000 yesterday to hire a water rights attorney to help negotiate a more vigorous Steelhead trout recovery program for the Santa Ynez River.

The Southern Steelhead trout once flooded local rivers but most recent estimates place the regional population of the now-endangered species at less than 1 percent of what it was 50 years ago. Efforts over the last 15 years to jumpstart the recovery of the species were unsuccessful, and the Steelhead population has reached dangerously low numbers.

By hiring a water rights attorney, the council hopes to persuade the federal government – which owns the Bradbury Dam, a major obstacle to Steelhead attempting to return to their spawning grounds farther upriver – and local governments who depend on the dam for water to cooperate more with the recovery program.

More specifically, the council hopes the parties involved can come to a consensus about which approach should be taken to get the trout up and over the dam. Options include a trap-and-truck program, where the fish would be caught and trucked upriver past the dam, or the construction of fish ladders so that the trout could scale the dam themselves.

Due to the steepness of the dam, however, most fishing enthusiasts and environmentalists agree that a trap-and-truck approach is the more viable alternative.

In addition to providing for the endangered trout, the Santa Ynez River also acts as a major water source for the South Coast of Santa Barbara County. As the county’s population continues to increase, the demand for water continues to grow, further complicating the recovery efforts.