Clear Lake Hitch
The Clear Lake hitch is a large minnow found only in Clear Lake and its tributaries. Historically, the hitch likely numbered in the millions, but recent surveys indicate a significant decline, and in 2014, California designated the hitch as a threatened species. The hitch has strong cultural significance for several indigenous Pomo tribes of the Clear Lake region that rely on the hitch (or “chi”) for spiritual purposes and traditions and as a primary food source. The hitch is also of great importance to the lake’s ecosystem, a significant source of food for other fish, birds, and wildlife.
The State Water Board is looking for ways to protect the Clear Lake hitch now and in the long term, including local voluntary actions to keep water in the creeks this year, obtaining data to better understand the problem and potential solutions, collaboration to fund effective solutions and spread important messages, enforcement to ensure all diversions in the area are legal, and regulations if voluntary actions aren’t successful.
The hitch are running!
Hitch have been spotted in Clear Lake creeks. This is the unofficial start of the 2023 spawning season, which means it's time to actively practice voluntary actions to keep water in key creeks. See "Actions You can Take to Protect the Hitch" below for details. Watch a video of the hitch in Cole Creek!
What to do if you see hitch in a ditch
Recent storms have flooded parts of Clear Lake creeks, causing some hitch to be stranded in ditches and on private property. If you see stranded hitch, please note the location and email email@example.com. We will connect you with a team authorized to rescue hitch and return them to the creeks.
Clear Lake Hitch Response
The State Water Board is deeply committed to helping Clear Lake communities and tribes protect the hitch. In 2023, we are focusing our efforts on Adobe, Kelsey, Manning, Cole, and Middle creeks. We are asking people in the watersheds that feed these creeks to take voluntary actions to keep water flowing from February through May 2023. Without enough water flowing during this time, the hitch cannot successfully spawn and may go extinct.
Voluntary actions you can take to keep water flowing include the following:
- Reduce surface water diversions and groundwater pumping, especially from wells that are close to creeks.
- Coordinate the timing of diversions and pumping with neighbors, so that everyone does not pump at the same time, to reduce impacts on given days or times.
- Use non-water methods for frost protection.
- Fill storage reservoirs and water tanks as early in the year as possible before hitch are in the creeks.
- Operate reservoirs and ponds in ways that keep water in the creeks or maximize flows.
Other voluntary actions may require additional coordination with state and local agencies and obtaining permits, including pump-back projects, habitat restoration, streambed maintenance actions, and other activities. Please let us know what voluntary actions you will take to help the hitch by emailing ClearLakeHitch@waterboards.ca.gov.
Board Information Item
The Board held an Information Item on the Clear Lake Hitch Emergency at its Mar. 7, 2023, public meeting.
Voluntary Actions Letter
The Deputy Director of Water Rights sent a letter to Clear Lake area water users on Feb. 15, 2023, asking them to take voluntary steps to help keep water in key Clear Lake creeks this spring for hitch spawning and rearing.
Board staff held two virtual public listening sessions on Jan. 19 and Feb. 1, 2023, to discuss the emergency impacting the Clear Lake hitch and potential near and long-term solutions.
- Jan. 19, 2023 Presentation and Recording
- Feb. 1, 2023 Presentation and Recording
- Public Notice REVISED
If you suspect an activity in your area may be threatening the Clear Lake water supply, there are many ways to report it. Suspicious activities can include dumping potentially hazardous chemicals in or near the water, making changes to creek channels, taking water from a creek without a permit, and more. Here are some things you can do if you identify suspicious activity:
- If you witness poaching, polluting, or any fish and wildlife violation, please submit a confidential notice to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's CALTIP program.
- If you witness an environmental problem of any kind, please submit a complaint to the California Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Complaint System.
- If you witness a release of potentially hazardous materials to the environment, please report it to the California Office of Emergency Services State (CalOES) Warning Center by calling 1-800-852-7550. The Warning Center operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- You can also email any issue to the Board’s Clear Lake Hitch team at ClearLakeHitch@waterboards.ca.gov
The Board's primary enforcement goal in Clear Lake is to encourage compliance with California’s surface water rules and regulations. Board staff are actively investigating diversions in the watershed and focused on reviewing annual reports, verifying compliance with measurement and reporting requirements, and identifying reservoirs or diversions without a water right. Where necessary, the Board will take actions to bring diverters into compliance.
Current Enforcement Actions
- Yolo County Flood Control and Water Control District - Notice of Violation (Mar. 10, 2023)
- Lake County – Notice of Violation (Mar. 22, 2023)
For more information about the Board’s water rights enforcement activities, visit the Water Rights Enforcement webpage.
Clear Lake Hitch Background
The Clear Lake hitch, also known as “chi”, is a large minnow found only in Clear Lake and its tributary creeks. The hitch is culturally important to local Native American tribes and ecologically important to the Clear Lake ecosystem. Historically, hitch likely numbered in the millions and were so plentiful they served as a staple food source for the region’s Pomo tribes. Unfortunately, the hitch population has been declining for many years, and in 2014, California designated the hitch as a threatened species.
The Clear Lake hitch have a life cycle up to six-years. Each spring, adult hitch migrate up Clear Lake tributaries to spawn before returning to the lake. After about two weeks, juveniles hatch and make their way to the lake. Without enough water flowing during this time, the hitch cannot successfully spawn or return to the lake. Because the hitch have a relatively short life cycle, one or two bad spawning seasons can be potentially detrimental to the species.
Historically, Clear Lake hitch likely numbered in the millions, but the population has been declining for many years, and in 2014, California designated the hitch as a threatened species. Potential factors impacting the hitch:
- Insufficient flow volumes (Drought impacts, Surface diversions, Losing streams)
- Flow barriers (Culverts, Stream bed alterations, Dams)
- Habitat degradation (Mining, Land use changes, Levee development/flood control)
- Predation & competition with invasive species
- Pollution (Mercury, Harmful Algal Blooms)
While the hitch’s decline can be linked to a variety of factors, the most immediate threat to their survival is little to no water flowing in Clear Lake creeks this spring for hitch spawning and rearing.
Groundwater–Surface Water Connection: It’s possible that groundwater pumping in the Clear Lake area is impacting the amount of water flowing in Clear Lake creeks. Groundwater pumping in a watershed can substantially reduce the amount of surface water flowing through creeks, particularly when multiple users are pumping at the same time. The effects of groundwater pumping on creek flows could be instantaneous or could occur more slowly over days, months, or years.
- United States Geological Survey (USGS): Studying Threatened Fish Species in Clear Lake, CA
- USGS: Hydrologic and Aquatic Ecology Studies at Clear Lake, California
- University of California Davis Agriculture and Natural Resources: Clear Lake Hitch
- Center for Biological Diversity: Clear Lake Hitch
- Thompson et al., 1999. The native and introduced fishes of Clear Lake: a review of the past to assist with decisions of the future. California Fish and Game 99(1): 7-41.
- Big Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, 2022. Big Valley Groundwater Sustainability Plan (5-015)
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