Silverado Canyon Swimming Holes Under Threat Due to Explosive Dam Removal

Silverado Canyon Swimming Holes are under threat.EXPAND
Silverado Canyon Swimming Holes are under threat.
Joel Robinson

Between March 20th and April 30th, the US Forest Service and Marines from Camp Pendleton plan to remove five historic dams along Maple Springs Road in the Trabuco Ranger district of the Cleveland National Forest. The areas that’ll be effected are Holy Jim in Trabuco Canyon, San Juan Creek and the rock pools in Silverado Canyon. Oh, and when we say “remove” we mean completely destroy via explosives.

The reason for the dam removal that Joel Robinson hears is to restore the streams for the benefit of threatened and endangered species, like the Steelhead Trout and Arroyo Toads, as well as rid of public safety hazards. He's the founder of Naturalist For You, a non-profit created to connect and teach the public about the nature around us, and is all for helping endangered species and keeping the public safe. But he's not sold on the rationale for the dam removal.

"The dams were built for recreational purposes in the '70s," says Robinson, who has spent his entire life exploring the depths of Silverado Canyon and the Santa Ana Mountains. "Hazard-wise, they're not anymore of a danger than anything else. You enter the forest at your own risk—dehydration, falling and injuring yourself, getting lost, or getting run over by someone driving up a trail are more of a threat."

The problem with this aggressive dam removal is that it's going to wipe out two natural rock pools in Silverado Canyon. The "swimming holes," as Silverado residents refer to it, are Orange County's hidden aquatic gems. They're far enough away from the rest of the OC concrete jungle to connect with nature's serenity, cell service is minimal and wildlife is abundant.

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"Being able to swim in a natural place and encountering creatures like tree frogs, orange salamanders and newts is the most magical thing," says Robinson, who admits it makes him teary eyed to think that the swimming holes might soon be gone. "Nowhere else in Orange County gives you the opportunity to experience nature quite like that."

For years the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, California Fish and Wildlife Department, US Geological Survey and Trout Unlimited identified Trabuco and San Juan Creek as areas they wanted to restore because they're home to threatened species. The same argument is being used for Silverado Creek, which, according to Robinson, is wrong. By removing the dams, it would destroy tons of habitats and put animals in the wrong places, which will likely to lead to their death.

"Southern Steelhead Trout and Arroyo Toads are not able to support themselves in upper Silverado Creek within the national forest boundary," Robinson says in a letter he wrote to KNBC-TV Channel 4. "There are large-scale obstacles that prevent access and recovery, including reduced water table, natural drops (waterfalls), Irvine Lake Dam, Villa Park Dam, OCWD (Orange County Water District) Recharge Basins, Hart Park and Santiago Park parking lots, and the Santa Ana River cement channel."

Robinson claims that no one knew this aggressive restoration was going to happen because the public wasn't properly made aware, even though an Orange County Fire Authority official told the Orange County Register such plans have been in work since 2012. "Silverado Canyon is the reason I stayed in Orange County," says Robinson. "To lose such an integral piece of Silverado Canyon is devastating to our community."


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