In the arid lands around San Diego, California, where even a trickle of water can sustain life, the Santa Margarita River is a precious lifeline for one of the most biodiverse regions in the Lower 48. It is one of the last free-flowing rivers in southern California and provides vital water and habitat for a region that has more rare, threatened and endangered species than any comparable land area in the Lower 48. Protected along much of its length, the Santa Margarita is one of the last intact habitat links between Southern California’s high desert, the coastal Santa Ana Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
In late 2015, Western Rivers Conservancy committed to preserving a prime reach of this crucial California stream.
A rare southern California river with significant flows and no main-stem dams, the Santa Margarita is the southernmost stream to sustain salmonids—in this case, endangered southern steelhead—in North America. The river also supports the largest remaining native population of arroyo chub, a tiny omnivorous fish that was once prolific throughout the coastal streams of southern California. What’s more, the Santa Margarita sustains the highest diversity and density of bird species in the Southern California coastal region—236 species in all—and a tremendous array of plants and other wildlife. By all measures, the Santa Margarita is an ecological and recreational treasure.
From its high desert source, the Santa Margarita gathers a handful of tributaries in the Santa Ana Mountains, pours through Temecula Canyon and meanders through a large floodplain in the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, finally entering the Pacific near Oceanside. The river’s varied journey takes it through dry canyons, chaparral-covered hills, riparian woodlands and coastal marshes, providing habitat for 52 mammal species and 43 reptile species, including 30 threatened or endangered animals.
From a recreational perspective, the Santa Margarita is equally important. Outdoor enthusiasts use the river corridor year-round. For birders, it can be the chance at a rare glimpse of birds like the endangered least Bell’s vireo or the endangered southwestern willow fly catcher. For equestrians and mountain bikers, the river offers a system of carefully managed trails that are unmatched in the region. And for countless others, the Santa Margarita is a place you can go to leave the bustle of the city behind for a relaxing hike along a free-flowing river.
In 2015, WRC signed an agreement to purchase 1,384 acres of land along the Santa Margarita from the Fallbrook Public Utility District. The project will protect five miles of the main-stem Santa Margarita, as well as two miles of Sandia Creek, a key tributary. Once complete, our efforts will create an assemblage of protected areas along the river, connecting the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve upstream with protected riverlands in Camp Pendleton, downstream. We are currently working to secure conservation funding and a long-term steward for the lands.
Nov 3, 2015
This month, Western Rivers Conservancy made an important move toward conserving a key stretch of the Santa Margarita, one of the last free-flowing rivers in Southern California. By committing to purchase 1,384 acres of riverland, we moved one step closer to creating an unbroken habitat corridor and a critical ecological link between the inland high desert, coastal Santa Ana Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.