Piru Creek - 3) Lake Piru to Santa Clara River


Piru Creek, California, US

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3) Lake Piru to Santa Clara River (Lower Piru)

Usual Difficulty II+(III) (for normal flows)
Length 6.54 Miles
Avg. Gradient 37 fpm
Max Gradient 39 fpm

Piru - below Upper Bridge put-in


Piru - below Upper Bridge put-in
Photo of Brett Duxbury by Paul Martzen taken 09/02/07 @ 250 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
PIRU CREEK BELOW SANTA FELICIA DAM CA
usgs-11109800 150 - 1000 cfs II+(III) 01h03m 9.94 cfs (too low)


River Description

2012 Fall Releases:  
Releases are expected to start on September 5.   Flows will be: 
400 cfs - Sept 6 - 22
350 cfs - Sept 23 - Oct 1
300 cfs - Oct 1 - 12
250 cfs - Oct 13 - 26

Access to the upper put in below the dam on District’s property will be limited to Saturdays and Sundays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Boaters seeking access to the put-in site on the District property must make reservations 42 hours in advance by calling the District office at (805) 525-4431. All boaters accessing Piru Creek from the District property must read and sign a waiver form. The form must be signed before access will be given – no exceptions.

For more information, call United Water Conservation District at (805) 525-4431
United Water Conservation District

Warning:  Measuring instruments mounted on metal posts have been placed in a number of locations along the creek.  These posts may present navigation or broaching hazards.   Be on the lookout.

2011 Fall Releases:  September 12 to October 27. 

2010 Fall Releases: 
Releases of about 400 cfs are expected to start on September 17.   Put in shuttles will start on Saturday and Sunday Sept. 18 & 19.   The release is expected to drop below 200 cfs in early November.   Flows will drop in 50 cfs increments over the course of the release.   See the calendar for flows on specific dates.   

2009 Fall releases:  
Flows of 250 cfs will start on September 11 and run through October 28, according to United Water's  release schedule.   The 250 cfs flow is a low moderate level.  Flows and dates are posted on the United Water website and on the AW calender on the right side of this page.

There will be escorted access given on weekends at specific times for boaters to put in below the dam and take out at the park in the town of Piru.   UW intends to create a listserve on their site to notify the public of the release and access conditions.  AW will also post that information here, on our calender and in news releases. 

Overview:  
From the dam down to the spillway channel is reported to be very brushy with narrow channels and some confusing forks for the first 1/2 mile.   Flows come from a hydro plant outlet which provides low and steady flows almost all year long.   This encourages the heavy vegetation growth.  After 1/2 mile the outlet channel joins a more scoured channel coming from the dam spillway. 

From the upper highway bridge down into town the creek tends to be busy with lots of long riffles.   The banks are usually thick with greenery.   In spots the brush grows out into the channel and in some years has been so thick as to present a hazard.   In 2007, the channel was always clear.    The stream side brush does provide a feeling of seclusion for most of the run while the canyon walls rising above offer interesting lessons in coast range geology.   

Below town the creek bed is generally wide, shallow and often braided. It has a barren feel, but with nice views of distant mountains. This section would be most interesting in the early morning or evening rather than the middle of the day. There is a diversion dam of sorts and a steep rocky drop underneath the next bridge downstream of Warring Park. Shortly past that in 2007 was another trouble spot with a number of driftwood trees and a pipe clogging a drop. There was a route through the mess but it would give beginners trouble.

Put in:  The highest put in is a few hundred yards below the dam.   This access is only available to boaters during Fall releases, on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 3 pm.  Make reservations 42 hours in advance by calling United Water Conservation District at (805) 525-4431.  Park at a turnout marked with a sign for a boater shuttle.   United Water personel will shuttle boaters down to the creek.   There is a good play spot at this put in and one additional significant rapid before the first bridge access.  The first half mile of this section is reported to be very overgrown with bushes and overhanging trees, leading to considerable danger, excitement and difficulty in the fast water.   Tree saws and pruning shears may be recommended for the first few trips each year. 

A commonly used put in is at the first bridge, about 1.3 miles below the dam. There is a narrow shoulder for parking and fences come right up to the bridge. There is a 30 foot public easement on either side of the center line of the road. Stay within that easement to access the creek.  This means that you should lower boats and climb down as close to the bridge as possible.   The fence on the southeast corner of the bridge is about 27 feet from road center, so legally there is another 3 feet beyond that is public.  On the southwest corner the fence comes to about 20 feet from road center and more effectively blocks access to the streambed.    Note that the creek drops off on the downstream side of the bridge.

If someone from Rancho Temescal stops while you are preparing to boat, they may try to convince you that it is not legal to boat on the creek or not legal to launch from the bridge.   Be polite and diplomatic, but insist on your right to launch there and to float the creek.   They will probably not attempt to stop you from boating but will just try to convince you to leave.  If they can convince you to leave without boating, then it does not matter whether you have a legal right to boat.   See Legal Access Rights on Piru Creek.

Take-out: at Warring Park under a railroad bride at the upper end of the town of Piru. There is a large parking area at this park, and there are bathrooms, picnic tables and sheltered areas.  This is a good place to change and get ready for boating.
You can also continue on below town to the Torrey Road bridge, where there is parking on either side of the road.   From Warring Park to Torrey Road is mostly spread out and often braided.

--------------------------------------------

Kevin Mokracek writes:

This is an easy run. If you live in the area it is worth hitting. Be aware of where you park and make sure you DO NOT cross fences. There have been issues with the property owner who owns most of the land below the dam. The run from the bridge below the dam to down below Hwy 126 is generally class II but there can be a few technical III's.

I have done this run dozens of times in the past several years. It has ranged from brushy to clear depending on winter flood releases from the dam.

The play is better above town than below. If you are a serious playboater you will be disappointed. If you only get out on a river one or two times a month or less then this is a fun afternoon run just for the sake of being on water. If you live in the area you should definitely do it. It is nothing like Upper or Middle Piru.

From the dam into the town of Piru is easy class II with maybe a few class III rapids. From town into the Santa Clara River bottom is Class I-II.

Be courteous to the locals

-----------------------------------------------


Other Information:
In the upper reach, Piru Creek flows through Rancho Temescal, owned by the Cohen family and managed by Tim Cohen.   If someone from this ranch stops while you are preparing to boat, they may try to convince you that it is not legal to boat on the creek or not legal to launch from the bridge.   Be polite and diplomatic, but insist on your right to launch there and to float the creek.   They will probably not attempt to stop you from boating but will just try to convince you to go away.  If they can convince you to leave without boating, then it does not matter whether you have a legal right to boat or not.   Legal Access Rights on Piru Creek, documents AW communication with the Ventura Sheriff in 2000 after the land owner prevented or tried to prevent boaters from using the reach.

"Immediately below the dam and also south of the project are agricultural lands associated with Rancho Temescal. Rancho Temescal is a 6,000-acre working ranch that once was opened to the public. (The Ranch is no longer open to the public.)

Farm Bureau Story about Rancho Temescal
Dude Ranches

United Water Conservation District Page
Legal Issues
Santa Felicia Project: FERC #2153
Geological and water characteristics
Fish Studies
Santa Clarita Geology
Santa Clara River Parkway
Friends of the Santa Clara River


Ventura County road encroachment permit desk is open Monday through Friday 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM., at (805) 654-2055. They should have info on road right of way at the put in bridge.


FERC Information:

The Santa Felicia Project: FERC #2153 in 2007 is in the final stages of relicensing.

To find documents related to this project go to the FERC elibrary, general search page.
Enter 'P-2153' in the docket box. To limit the search to environmental issues, also enter '-012' in the subdocket box.

A final Environmental Assessment was issued by FERC on January 23, 2007. It is available online at http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/File_list.asp?document_id=4473031

Excerpts from the Final Environmental Assesment:

Middle and Lower Piru Creek Recreational Resources

United proposes to notify American Whitewater and its affiliates of annual conservation releases, including the schedule and estimated flow rates. United proposes to post the schedule on its website (www.unitedwater.org) for current lower Piru Creek flow conditions and scheduled conservation releases or spills from Santa Felicia dam. United also proposes to communicate with the boating community through the establishment and administration of an email list serve. Notification of releases and spill events would be communicated by August 15 regarding annual fall conservation releases. United proposed, as part of its application, a take-out area for whitewater boaters, including a boat ramp and parking area, adjacent to the Forest Service closure gate near the Juan Fernandez Boat Launch swim beach area, and implemented this measure in fall 2004 (see figure 30, appendix A). This measure was implemented to allow whitewater boaters entering Lake Piru from the middle reach (upstream of Lake Piru and downstream of Pyramid Lake) to paddle along the western shore to this take-out area due to closure of public whitewater boating egress previously provided at Blue Point Campground.

United also proposes to continue to negotiate with Ventura County and neighboring private property interests to secure access at the upstream Piru Canyon Road bridge crossing downstream of Santa Felicia dam (see figure 30, appendix A). United received preliminary notice from Ventura County that its easements constitute public access. If access is secured, United proposes to relocate the existing fences and grade an area to provide parking adequate for at least 20 vehicles. A 4-foot-wide spring-closing gate would be installed with a foot trail graded to the creek. Until such time that the bridge access improvements are implemented, United proposes to provide restricted and escorted access to the gage (USGS gage no. 11109800, Piru Creek below Santa Felicia dam) access site for 1 hour each weekend day of the annual conservation release. All vehicles would need to leave this location following equipment off-loading and all vehicles and equipment would be subject to security inspection.

The Sierra Club (letter from K. Schmidt, River Touring Section, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club, Granada Hills, CA, to the Commission, dated May 20, 2005) comments that United's proposed put-in access point would cut off about 1.5 miles of a 4.7-mile run, which is not acceptable to the boating community. American Whitewater and Sierra Club comment that the permanent access location should be located at the gage below the Santa Felicia dam (letter from D. Steindorf, American Whitewater, and K. Schmidt, Sierra Club, to the Commission, dated January 12, 2006). Sierra Club also comments that United should consider options such as escorted access or a shuttle that would drop boaters at the river directly below the dam and that United should provide the means for an adaptive management plan for boating access based upon boating use. The Sierra Club also states that United should provide portage access around the project dam (letter from K. Schmidt, River Touring Section, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club, Granada Hills, CA, to J. Dickenson, United, dated December 17, 2004). Rick Norman (letter from R. Norman, Monrovia, CA, to the Commission, dated May 16, 2005) comments that although United's proposal to seek access at the bridge crossing is of interest to the whitewater boating community, it is a poor substitute for the upper put-in and superior upper section whitewater boating opportunities. American Whitewater and Sierra Club (letter from D. Steindorf, American Whitewater, and K. Schmidt, Sierra Club, to the Commission, dated January 12, 2006) comment that they support the idea of interim escorted access to the put-in location at the USGS weir, downstream of the dam, until permanent access is secured. They state, however, that a 1-hour window, as proposed by United, is inadequate, due to logistics and the desire for most whitewater boaters to complete two runs per day and recommend that United provide escorted access between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on weekends during the 2- to 6-week flow release period.

Our Analysis

United's proposed notification process of providing information on its conservation release flows through its website and an email list serve would help whitewater boaters take better advantage of these whitewater boating opportunities within the project area. Methods for this notification may need to be updated as new technology becomes available over the term of a new license. We note however, that United is also proposing to provide fine sediment flushing flows for habitat enhancements in lower Piru Creek. Although the magnitude of these flows has not yet been determined, it could be sufficient to provide additional whitewater boating opportunities at the project. Utilizing United's website and email list serve to notify interested parties of the fine sediment flushing flow, if of a magnitude satisfactory to provide recreational whitewater boating, would help whitewater boaters take better advantage of these whitewater boating opportunities, as well.

For middle Piru Creek boating access, United's recently implemented egress at the swim beach area adjacent to the Forest Service closure gate area provides adequate means for whitewater boaters to take-out from boating runs on the middle Piru Creek. For lower Piru Creek boating access, as stated by the Sierra Club and Rick Norman, the proposed access would cut off a portion of the whitewater boating run in the lower Piru Creek. United acknowledges that a portion of the run is not realized by putting in at the proposed access location; however, United comments that unfettered access to the gage location immediately downstream of the dam should not be provided due to security issues at Santa Felicia dam.

United's proposal for providing interim restricted and escorted shuttle access for private vehicles would provide the means for whitewater boaters to access sections of the lower Piru Creek for whitewater boating opportunities until permanent access is obtained for this whitewater boating run. However, as American Whitewater and Sierra Club comment, a 1-hour window could prove to be problematic and limit whitewater boating opportunities during the interim period. Extending the period for interim whitewater boating access from 1 hour to 6 hours during weekends between the 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. period when conservation releases and fine sediment flushing flows occur would provide more sufficient opportunity for whitewater boaters to access sections of the lower Piru Creek for whitewater boating opportunities until permanent access is obtained for this whitewater boating run.

Provision of a whitewater boating access in lower Piru Creek would provide enhanced means for boaters to access the lower Piru Creek during conservation releases in the fall when water is released from Santa Felicia dam and during the release of flows for sediment flushing. In addition, provision of a portage around the dam would allow for whitewater boating access between middle Piru Creek (between Pyramid Lake and Lake Piru) and lower Piru Creek (below Santa Felicia dam). As with most recreational facilities around hydroelectric project dams, we must consider the safety of the public, suitable public access to those recreational opportunities provided by the project, and property ownership when assessing placement and availability of public access. Assessment of the feasibility of providing portage access around the project dam and selection of the whitewater boating access location, including access at the USGS gage no. 11109800 location below the Santa Felicia dam, should consider both public safety and providing an access that takes best advantage of the whitewater boating run opportunities in lower Piru Creek. We discuss the cost of developing and implementing recreation measures in section VI, Developmental Analysis. We present our final recommendations pertaining to recreation in section VII, Comprehensive Development and Recommended Alternative.

 


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2012-09-12 02:43:21

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-0.7Put in Parking AreaN/AAccess
0.0Dam Put InN/APutin
0.1Tangled JungleIVHazard
0.5Spillway Channel confluenceN/A
1.3Upper BridgeN/APutin
2.0Second BridgeN/AAccess
2.5Low head damIIHazard Photo
3.9Diversion DamIIIHazard Photo
4.5Warring ParkN/ATakeout Access Photo
4.5Center Street BridgeIIPhoto

Rapid Descriptions

Put in Parking Area (Class N/A, Mile -0.7)

During fall releases, park vehicles in this large area next to Piru Canyon Road, where a side road drops down to the base of the dam.   Look for a sign identifying the parking area.    United Water Conservation District will bring vehicles to shuttle you down to the creek.  Have all your gear ready to transfer to the shuttle vehicle when you get there. 

The shuttle service and access here is only available during the fall release, on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 am to 3 pm.   The parking lot will be closed and locked after 4 pm.    This put in is not available at any other time. 



Dam Put In (Class N/A)

This put in is only available during the fall release, on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 am to 3 pm.   United Water Conservation District will shuttle boaters to the creek at those time only.  Call United Water Conservation District at (805) 525-4431 to make reservations at least 42 hours in advance. 

There is reported to be a good play spot right at the put in.

Expect to deal with lots of brush for a half mile till you reach the spillway channel. 



Tangled Jungle (Class IV, Mile 0.1)

The creek enters an section of dangerously thick brush for the next 4/10s of a mile.  Though this is the natural channel coming from the base of the dam, it never receives high flows which could clear out the streambed.  Most of the year the release is only 8 to 10 cfs which encourages thick brush growth in the channel.   With fall release flows, water is flushing through this brush in many areas.   The difficulty rating given is not due to rapids but to fast current, sharp turns and dangerous brush.

High winter flows that would normally clean this channel are mostly captured by the reservoir, then diverted over the spillway into the spillway channel 1/4 mile to the west.

It appears that boaters enter Rancho Temascal property as they enter this jungle area.



Spillway Channel confluence (Class N/A, Mile 0.5)

High flows over the spillway during big winters keep the channel relatively clear of brush below this confluence.   It will be a relief to exit the tangled forest that is the release channel and enter the much more natural high flow channel. 



Upper Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 1.3)

This put in is available 7 days a week and avoids the brushy jungle below the dam put in.

There is a limited amount of parking along the narrow shoulder of the highway.  The highway right of way is reported to be 30 feet on each side of the center line.  The property fence is probably on that boundary but then encroaches in up to the edge of the bridge.   It is a bit awkward to get around the fence, but it is legal to access the river from the road right of way.   Once on the creek, there is a public right of way below the high water mark. 

The creek drops about 2 or 3 feet on the downstream side of the bridge.   At higher flows it must create a dangerous reversal.   At 250 cfs, the left channel did not have enough water to scrape through.   We got stuck and had to walk (sept 2, 2007).   The center opening looked like it had enough water to paddle through.   There was a reversal there, but probably not big enough to do anything.
   



Second Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 2.0)

Parking and access appears to be similar here to the first bridge.  We did see lots of people wading and swimming on Labor Day Sunday.    There were no drop offs or other hazards at this bridge. 



Low head dam (Class II, Mile 2.5)

Gauging Weir

Gauging Weir
Photo of Brett Duxbury by Paul Martzen taken 09/02/07 @ 250 cfs

This dam had about a 2 foot drop over most of its width at 250 cfs.  (sept 2, 2007)    There was a chute on far river right, but it ran into thick hanging branches from a tree.   We ran it a few feet out from the right where there was still plenty of water but no branches.    The rest of the dam looked shallow enough that we could have scraped and pushed our way over.   The reversal across the base of the dam was tiny at 250 cfs, but could become dangerous at some higher flow.   

This dam is an abondoned USGS stream gauge with the gauging tower on the river right.  
   



Diversion Dam (Class III, Mile 3.9)

Chute - downstream view

Chute - downstream view
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 09/02/07 @ 250 cfs

A rock and earth dam divides the channel into a large pool on the left and a steep narrow chute on the right.   The chute would be a clean class 3 except for a splat rock in the middle at the bottom.   It does not look easy to avoid and there is a stump to the right just below that.     It is probably no big deal, but it stands out on a class 2 run.    We portaged, but might or might not next time.   Other boaters run this drop with no qualms.    Any winter that there are high flows, this probably gets washed out and is rebuilt in the summer.   So it probably changes completely every few years.

Water is diverted out of the big pool on the left, for the Piru Mutual diversion and the Temescal diversion #2.  Elevation is about 708 feet.



Warring Park (Class N/A, Mile 4.5)

Old Railroad Bridge at Warring Park

Old Railroad Bridge at Warring Park
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 12/08/07

An abondoned railroad bridge marks this park, and marks the transition from the upper section to the more spread out and less interesting section below town.   The bridge and park are fairly obvious on the way to the put in.  There is plenty of parking there, bathrooms, picnic tables, playgrounds, shade trees and shelters.   It is a nice place.  Expect lots of families cooling off in the river and using the playgrounds.   Elevation is 685 feet. 

 



Center Street Bridge (Class II, Mile 4.5)

UWCD diversion underneath Center Street Bridge

UWCD diversion underneath Center Street Bridge
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 12/08/07

UWCD has built up earth dams under the bridge to divert some of the water through a gate on the right.  Boaters can continue down a narrow channel on the left.   These berms and channels probably change somewhat whenever they are washed out by winter high flows, then rebuilt afterwards.




User Comments

Users can submit comments.
August 22 2009 (2889 days ago)
Paul MartzenDetails
Rick Norman reports: IMHO: kayaks and ww short canoes are best suited. Hotshot IK's may have a
blast. Small rafts will have an arduous day, and large rafts will have a long picnic followed by a
"lotta 'spainin' to do"' as you portage over the private property dude ranch, seeking the road
home. Lower Piru Creek: SF Dam spillway/power plant to 1st Bridge: Special Shuttle access to the
River Gauge located 300 yards below the SF Dam is provided by arrangement of UW as FERC
re-licensing mitigations. Private boater vehicles do not have access over the local private
properties, nor over the SF Dam facilities. The initial special shuttle details have yet to be
fully determined and published. Such initial shuttle availability may also reflect boater turnout:
hopefully we show the same intense interest displayed by our enthusiastic participation in the
whitewater feasibility studies in 2005, 2006 and 2007. One option is that the shuttle will load
boats and boaters at a turnout on the upper road leading to Piru Lake Rec. Area, very near to the
actual Dam's Upper Facility entrance. This route takes an adventurous road across the spillway,
switch-backs down the Dam abutments, and finally ends at the River Gauge area, approximately. 300
yards below the base of the Dam powerhouse. The second shuttle option passes thru a different
locked gate, using a UW easement over the private ranch property, arriving at the same
aforementioned River Gauge put-in site. This upper put-in to the Lower Piru Creek, below Lake Piru,
offers an additional 1.7 miles to the run, an additional rapid, beautiful riverine float scenery,
and a low- weir formed play-wave for show-time and warm-up located just above the put-in. Peeling
out of the play-wave and heading due south a short distance, the boater plunges into the
overhanging trees. A sharp right bend in the river points the unwary boater to travel west into a
swamp like bottom land that peters out towards a now little-used river channel below the westerly
Dam spillway. A dead-end for Deadheads. Back upriver, just a few yards AFTER that first sharp
westerly right bend, care should be taken to float " leftwards through the willow/shoals" in a
southerly direction. Hopefully there may be some enterprising kayakers willing to take a scythe and
machete; creating a path though the willows in the early days of the boating season; maybe the best
way to establish the most viable route leading to the next worthy feature, described below. As the
boater continues south and emerges from the willow/shoal jungle, the river again consolidates the
many braids into fewer channels. The boater may see the main river channel disappear into a stand
of eucalyptus and cottonwoods. There is a good landing at river right just before the trees gobble
up the river in a swift current rush. A scout trail, that may be shared with the occasional cattle
and attending bull, leads a 100 yards to view a sharp dog-leg right-left turn and then a beaver
dam-like ledge drop, located at the exit from the dark and gloomy tree- tunnel section. This tight
turn and ledge feature, and the narrow raging channel upstream, have the most potential for low
hanging branches, fallen branches, and log-jams. It may be a good idea to scout the whole section
before committing to the entrance. Very few, fast , and brushy eddies are available in this
wild-thrill: It's a Piru E-ticket ride. Below the Dog-Leg-Ledge drop, the river calms considerably
for its preamble across the flood-plain of ancient, pre-dam deposits of rich soil from the high
country surrounding Mt Pinos and Los Padres National forest. Occasional Ranch Temascal water pump
facilities of the so-called real world float by, as the boater enjoys the riverside reeds, the
flora/fauna, and the cool stream. A good place for dreamers. My foggy memory provides no further
detail, as soon the boater approaches the 1st Bridge (as counted, starting from the dam spillway).
A fine addition to our rare inventory of Southern California boating opportunities. Rick Norman
Aug. 22,2009


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