Clear Lake Hitch
The Clear Lake hitch is a large minnow found only in Clear Lake and its tributaries. The hitch population has been struggling for some time and the recent drought exacerbated the situation. In 2014, the hitch was listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act. In March 2023, Governor Newsom directed the State Water Board to evaluate minimum instream flows, work with water users and Tribes on voluntary actions, and consider emergency regulations to protect the Clear Lake hitch. The State Water Board is deeply committed to helping Clear Lake communities and Tribes protect the hitch now and in the long term.
- The State Water Board will consider adopting Draft Emergency Information Order Regulations for the Clear Lake Watershed at its meeting on December 6, 2023.
- To view or participate in the December 6th Board Meeting, refer to the Agenda provided in the Emergency Regulations section below.
November 2023 Draft Emergency Regulations
The State Water Board released revised Draft Emergency Information Order Regulations for the Clear Lake Watershed on November 22, 2023. The Board will consider adopting the Draft Emergency Regulations on December 6, 2023. To view or participate in the Board Meeting, refer to the Agenda below.
- Draft Resolution
- Draft Emergency Regulations (Nov. 22, 2023) | Redline
- Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking
- Finding of Emergency, Informative Digest, and Fiscal Impact Statement
October 2023 Workshops
Board staff held public workshops on October 19 and 24 to answer questions and receive input on the draft emergency regulations. Workshop materials:
September 2023 Draft Emergency Regulations
The Board released Draft Emergency Regulations for early public comment on September 5, 2023. Comments were due by October 31, 2023.
Protecting the Clear Lake Hitch
Here are some key voluntary actions you can take to help the Clear Lake hitch:
- Share your water use information and data
Groundwater pumping may be impacting creek flows, but State Water Board staff need data to better understand the size and timing of potential impacts. Please email us if you would like to share information and data.
- Participate in a water monitoring program
Agricultural groups, Tribes, and county, state, and federal agencies are monitoring groundwater and surface water around Clear Lake. Funding may be available for landowners who want to participate in a monitoring program. If you are interested in helping with these monitoring efforts, please email us to learn more.
- Reduce water use from February through June
The hitch use Clear Lake creeks to spawn and rear each year from February through June (and longer if water is available). It is critical to keep creeks flowing during this timeframe, and limiting surface water diversions and groundwater pumping can help. In addition to general reductions in water use, consider the following actions:
- Coordinate the timing of diversions and pumping with neighbors, so that everyone does not take water at the same time. This can reduce impacts on given days or times.
- Fill storage reservoirs and water tanks as early in the year as possible before hitch begin using the creeks.
- Use non-water methods for frost protection.
- Keep the creeks clean and clear
- Remove garbage, vehicles, and household items from creeks. These items can block fish passage and impact water quality.
- Do not drive in the creeks.
- Check out the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Save the Hitch flyer for other ways you can help.
- Implement conservation practices on your land
Funding may be available for people interested in implementing conservation practices that improve water quality and help the hitch. Examples include improving roads over creeks, reducing soil erosion, and barrier removal in streams. Contact the Lake County Water Resources Department for information.
Some voluntary actions such as creek maintenance, pump-back projects, or habitat restoration may require coordination with state and local agencies and permits. Please email ClearLakeHitch@waterboards.ca.gov for questions about voluntary actions.
Board Information Item (August 2023): The Board heard a Clear Lake Hitch Emergency Information Item at its August 2, 2023 public meeting. Related materials: Recording (beginning at 1:38:44) and Board Staff Presentation
Surface Water Measurement Regulations Workshop (April 2023): Board staff held an in-person workshop in the Clear Lake Watershed on how to comply with the Board’s surface water measurement regulations on April 23, 2023. The workshop included staff presentations and opportunities for questions. Related materials: Staff Presentation
Board Information Item (March 2023): The Board heard a Clear Lake Hitch Emergency Information Item at its March 7, 2023 public meeting. Related materials: Recording (beginning at 4:32:17) and Panelists and Board Staff Presentations
Voluntary Actions Letter (February 2023): The Board’s Division of Water Rights asked Clear Lake area water users to take voluntary steps to help keep water in key Clear Lake creeks for the 2023 spawning and rearing season. Related materials: February 23, 2023 Letter
Listening Sessions (January & February 2023): Board staff held two virtual public listening sessions to discuss the emergency impacting the Clear Lake hitch and potential near and long-term solutions. Related materials: January 19, 2023 Presentation and Recording and February 1, 2023 Presentation and Recording
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.
For more information about the Board’s water rights enforcement activities, visit the Clear Lake Hitch Project section of our Notice of Violation page
As hitch migrate through Clear Lake Creeks to reproduce each year, they may be blocked from reaching spawning habitat by physical barriers such as dams, culverts (tunnels that allow creeks to flow under roads), garbage, and overgrown vegetation. State, federal, and local government agencies are coordinating with Tribes and community groups to identify, prioritize, and address these barriers.
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.
In 2023, Governor Newsome recognized the impacts of drought on the Clear Lake watershed and the importance of ensuring critical instream flows for the Clear Lake hitch in Emergency Order N-5-23 and directed the State Water Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife to "…evaluate the minimum instream flows and other actions needed to protect salmon, steelhead, the Clear Lake Hitch, and other native fishes in critical streams systems in these watersheds and work with water users, tribes, and other parties on voluntary measures to implement those actions. To the extent voluntary actions are not sufficient, the Water Board, in coordination with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, shall consider emergency regulations to establish minimum instream flows to mitigate the effects of the drought conditions…"
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.
The Clear Lake hitch are known by the region’s Indigenous People as "Chi." Traditionally, Chi spawning was a time of celebration when tribal members would gather to collect food for the year and visit. The Chi has been a staple food and cultural mainstay of the original Pomo inhabitants of the region since time immemorial. Tribal elders recall the hitch being plentiful enough to walk across in creeks, until expanding development and agriculture, declining water quality, gravel mining, invasive species, removal of cultural fire from the land, habitat loss, and drought took their toll. The decline of the Chi is the result of a legacy of environmental injustice and land dispossession in the Clear Lake watershed.
Big Valley Rancheria Tribal historic preservation officer Ron Montez, Sr. — shared this account of the importance of Chi and the impacts of their decline:
In the old days, people used to come over from nearby areas like Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and the Sacramento Valley to camp out along the creeks, and there would be hundreds of Native people catching Chi. People would shout, “The Chi are running! Look at the fish over there! Chi! Chi!” and we would grab a bucket or a sack or even just our T-shirts. There were so many Chi. Everyone was excited because fish were jumping and flopping all over the place. I remember having so much fun — I would be soaking wet from diving after them, catching them, and throwing fish to the younger ones to put in the bucket — we were just laughing and having a great time. Once we got enough fish, it was time to quit. After that, we would take the fish back to the reservation, and then it was a community time where everybody would sit around and clean fish together. We would supply fish to the mothers and aunties and people cleaning them. I remember that everybody was happy because we knew we had fish — we knew we had some Chi — and it brought a good feeling that we had food now. Chi were still running back then — in the 1960s, 70s, even 80s — but it was getting less and less. You could still hear the call that “the Chi is running” and everybody still did the same thing and took off to gather them. Now … every once in a while somebody tells me, “Oh yeah, the Chi ran for a little bit over in this creek over here,” or “yeah, we got a few, but they are all gone now.” The abundance is gone. The excitement and that cultural aspect of it is gone. It is a sadness now that we feel whenever we talk about Chi because they are not like they used to be. That community relationship around them is not there anymore.
(This account originally appeared as part of a story in The Revelator, which is published by, but editorially independent from, the Center for Biological Diversity.)
Historically, Clear Lake hitch likely numbered in the millions, but the population has been declining for many years. There are a variety of potential factors impacting the hitch:
- Insufficient flow volumes (Drought impacts, Surface diversions, Losing streams)
- Flow barriers (Culverts, Stream bed alterations, Dams, Overgrown Vegetation, Garbage)
- Habitat degradation and loss (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)