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State files water pollution complaint against San Jose

March 22, 2014 in Current News

State files water pollution complaint against San Jose for failing to clean up homeless encampments

We are pleased that Warden Lt. Byron Jones has moved this action forward. This is a great leap forward in cleaning up our rivers. You can read the full article below or follow the link here
We at the Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Group (SSRG) have been requesting Lt. Jones and State Department of Fish and Wildlife to look into the homeless issue and have been supporting him with photos and videos supplied by SSRG Founder, Roger Castillo. Here is a short video on the Homeless in our rivers. it is the 3rd of a series we soon well be posting more soon on our website at

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Trouble Viewing? Download MP4 Here

Recently I went on a survey along Thompson and Silver Creeks with Roger Castillo and Ian Wren, staff scientist from San Francisco Baykeeper. We were observing how flash flooding was unnaturally eroding away at river banks due to the recent rains runoff from adjacent housing and streets.

Along the way we came to a road overcrossing the river. Walking up to the bridge, we were greeted with private property signs. As we entered underneath we found what appeared to be at least two homeless encampments. Eerily there was no one present. Looking up at one of the niches on the sides of the overcrossing you could clearly see a dining area, a simply constructed bedroom made of wood and plastic sheets and a kitchen area with food and condiment racks. The adjacent side was not as well kept but had food items tucked away and a small barbecue. In the river between was posted another sign, “Raw Sewage Keep Clear!” in several languages.

Even the Homeless are aware of the pollution in our rivers, probably more so than the thousands of people that unknowing pass over them every day.


Hopefully now the City of San Jose will be forced to actually clean up our local rivers and help the homeless with basic assistance and social services they require.

Allowing them to live in such conditions is a sign that our city does not care about those in need. Leaving them tucked away and out of sight is merely a denial of each one. And there are thousands. It’s all part of a continued negligence to the rivers and creeks in our city by our city officials and the santa clara valley water district. They know they’re responsible, we’ve been telling them for years.

Thanks again to Lt. Byron Jones and State Department of Fish and Wildlife. We greatly appreciate your actions and are at your support whenever you need.

Don Bernard
Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Group Inc.

State files water pollution complaint against San Jose for failing to clean up homeless encampments

By Bruce Newman and Paul Rogers
Staff writers San Jose Mercury News
Posted: 03/20/2014 06:40:06 PM PDT
Excerpt from San Jose Mercury News Click here to view the full article
SAN JOSE — In a move that could cost San Jose thousands of dollars in fines and lead to punitive cleanup orders, state wildlife officials have filed an environmental complaint against the city, claiming it’s violating pollution laws for failing to adequately clean up homeless encampments along Coyote Creek, one of Silicon Valley’s most troubled waterways.

The action by the State Department of Fish and Wildlife not only escalates the homeless issue politically, it also means state water regulators will investigate whether trash, human waste and other refuse from homeless encampments — already a recognized public nuisance — causes ecological damage similar to a factory dumping chemicals into local water channels.

“Basically what it comes down to,” said Fish and Wildlife Lt. Byron Jones, who filed the complaint Wednesday with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, “is they accept the encampments, they feel no sense of urgency to remove them, nor have they ever. It’s always been about the next cleanup. It’s never been about ending the practice of illegally camping and being in proximity to water.” more…

Extreme Drought Journey

March 14, 2014 in Current News

With the current drought conditions the wildlife in the local rivers are stressed due to lack of water. They try their best to cope with the situation waiting for the water to return. During the recent rains, instead of naturally dissipating into the ground, an unnatural amount of runoff water is directed to the rivers via the man made gutters and drainage systems. These systems are intended to keep the streets from flash flooding during large storms. And these systems work well for humans……

But, the wildlife is mislead into following the large flash flows and they begin to migrate towards the quickly diminishing source where they eventually get trapped. What seems like a refuge soon becomes a deathtrap. This video shows some of the effects of flash runoff on wildlife in our local rivers.

Video by: Roger Castillo

Salmon return to San Jose, thrilling long-time ‘river watchdog’ Roger Castillo

November 24, 2013 in Current News

By Lisa M. Krieger
Posted: 11/23/2013 04:15:31 PM PST
View full story at SJ Mercury News
Nov 22:
Los Gatos Creek: Shopping cart art calls attention to endangered salmon

SAN JOSE — Amid the din and concrete of downtown San Jose, one man rejoiced over the autumnal return of a species as wild and old as the hills — and even more mysterious.

“They’re here! The Chinook salmon are coming in,” crowed Roger Castillo, a disabled forklift operator and self-taught naturalist, striding the banks of the Guadalupe River on Saturday morning. “They’re hiding, right under our noses!”

For decades, Castillo — dubbed “The Watchdog of the River” by friends and local officials — has combed the banks of his beloved Guadalupe almost daily, reading its waters like a scholar reads a book.

It is Castillo who in 2005 found the fossilized bones of a Columbian Mammoth near Trimble Road. He was
Roger Castillo’s model, used to simulate how water moves through the Guadalupe River after a one- to two-inch rainfall in San Jose, has working sewer drains at his home in San Jose on Nov. 23, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Staff)
the first to sight the family of beavers near the St. John Bridge last spring. He’s photographed mating lamprey in the shadow of Mineta San Jose International Airport and an elegant osprey atop the Highway 87 freeway sign.

But it’s the incoming Chinook — heroic migratory creatures, born here and then returning to spawn and die — that capture his heart. Every winter, the silver Chinook, also known as King Salmon, migrate hundreds of miles from the Pacific Ocean in search of their Guadalupe birthplace. They use their sense of smell to navigate.

As soon as Castillo senses a shift in the barometric pressure at his Evergreen townhouse, he heads for the river. Sightings just last week alone: the carcass of a male, a nesting female and a mating pair.

Rainbow trout? They’re in their late November feeding frenzy, thick as thieves, snatching insects at the water’s surface. The river is closed to all fishing; it is illegal to catch either Chinook or trout.

“If something’s there, Roger will find it,” said longtime friend Larry Johmann, president of the Santa Clara Country Creek Coalition.

Castillo is 52, married and the father of three children, born in a San Jose once so rich with wildlife that “the earth moved with frogs” along creek beds, he recalled. His first float down the Guadalupe, as a boy, was in a box.

When he was a teenager, times were tight, so he started working straight out of high school. But his parents, who worked at the canneries, “taught me to always keep learning,” he said. He found career success as a computer technician before losing his job when the company relocated. “They offered me a job in Texas — it even came with a house — but I said, ‘Nope. I love this city.’ ”

“I need the spirit of the river,” he said, calling his sightings “an act of the angels.”

Over years, his fondness for the water turned into an obsession, linking him to a long line of people who have sought beauty and solitude in a river that tumbles out of the dark and brooding Santa Cruz Mountains. An Ohlone tribe arrived at its river banks as early as 8000 B.C., when it ran as clear and cold as chilled gin. It nurtured the late 1700s Spanish village called el Pueblo de San Jose Guadalupe. But as San Jose grew, development neglected the river as an important urban feature.

In recent years the city has committed to its welfare — an effort that is paying off. Castillo, as chairman of the nonprofit Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Group, is a major part of that effort. He studies hydrology and urban planning, reports poachers, files complaints about herbicide use, testifies at public hearings and educates children.

“We see him as a river steward,” said Chris Elias, watershed manager for operations and maintenance of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. “He shares what we see and comes to us with constructive suggestions about what we can do together to improve the habitat for fisheries.”
One of the California Toads that Roger Castillo keeps at his home in San Jose on Nov. 23, 2013. Castillo found the toads in Canoas Creek in San Jose. (LiPo Ching/Staff)

At the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, executive director Leslee Hamilton said, “He has helped connect the community to the river and its importance to our local ecosystem.” The conservancy’s education coordinator, Richard Tejeda, said, “He is a true grassroots-type person. He answers to nobody — a rogue and a watchdog. Everything is straight from his heart, expecting nothing in return. That’s a rare thing.”

Joyful in the woods, he scrambles through tangled willows and alders with the agility of a teen, although a tragic 2012 workplace accident disabled most of his right hand.

He won’t confide the precise locations of Chinook spawning spots, to protect them. But he has assembled a personal list of hundreds of “microhabitats.” He hopes to enlist Google Earth to help catalog each spot on a map, then track its changes over time.

At night, he is transferring 300 videos of special sightings — taken on old 8 millimeter film movie camera — to his computer.

He found Chinook in the drought of 1992, when water was so shallow it scraped their bellies. He found Chinook again in the deluges of 1995, when massive flooding flushed out gravel nests.

He frets during storms, then dons rain gear and inspects rain gauges and 30 storm drain outfalls, measuring flow rates with a stopwatch and plastic bucket. “Just a quarter inch of rain can make the river jump three feet,” dislodging the precious spawning beds, he said.

To better understand their ancestry, he sent tissue samples to UC Berkeley labs for genetic analysis. To understand urban water flow, he built 13-foot model of San Jose’s Byzantine storm drainage system. To protect the fish, he hunts for any evidence of poaching; in one homeless encampment, he found a 100-foot net, snares and primitive concrete-made traps.

He also has a weak spot for other river dwellers, he admits.

In search of rainbow trout, he pries off the tops of manhole covers and descends into the city’s underground waterways, filming the fish with a camera attached to his helmet. He admires shy Pacific slender salamanders, rescued a stranded raccoon kit with a milk carton and in his kitchen keeps an aquarium of breeding Pacific Chorus tree frogs, singing “krek-ek” like a symphony of creaky door hinges.

But he’s heartbroken by what he can’t find. This year he walked six miles of watershed in search of once-abundant California Toads, and found only six. What is happening to a place, he wondered, that it can’t support a toad?

“If you pay attention to the river, it will really show you something,” he said. “It repays you everything you put into it.”

Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.


The Guadalupe River is believed to be the southernmost major American river with a Chinook salmon run. To learn more about the river and its creatures, visit the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy at or call (408) 298-7657.
A video of spawning Chinook, shot last week by the conservancy’s Richard Tejeda, can be seen at

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