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The Santa Clara River, which flows west through the Santa Clarita Valley to the Pacific Ocean, is the last natural river in Southern California. Due to its shallow depth, it flows intermittently and is subject to flooding, making it unsuitable for fishing or recreational use except in limited areas. It is home to a variety of aquatic life, including endangered species such as the unarmored threespine stickleback, the Santa Ana sucker, and the arroyo chub.
The river area was first settled by the indigenous Chumash and Tataviam Indians, who relied upon the resources of the river to grow food crops and raise livestock. In 1769, a Spanish priest, Father Juan Crespi, gave the river its name during an exploration of the valley while scouting sites to build missions. He named the valley and river after Saint Clare of Assisi, who had an upcoming feast day. In the early days of Spanish settlers, the river was first diverted to irrigate mission crops to feed livestock.
In the early 1800s, aspiring ranchers were granted parcels of land along the river from the Mexican government and they used this land to create large ranches dedicated to raising livestock such as cattle and sheep.
Gradually, land use around the river shifted from ranching to agriculture in the 1870s, as the demand for cattle declined and devastating drought and flood cycles caused heavy cattle losses. With the arrival of Euro-American immigrants in the 1860s, larger scale agricultural crops were planted, including grains, sugar beets, walnuts, lima beans, and citrus, all of which relied on irrigation from the river and groundwater. During this period, for example, the Limoneira lemon ranch was founded and developed into the world’s largest lemon producer.
The growth of these industries fueled rapid development in the area and the demands upon the Santa Clara River grew substantially. The years from 1920 to the present day reflect this as urban development has encroached upon the flood plains, creating greater residential and recreational uses of the river and its associated groundwater, particularly in the Los Angeles County portion of the watershed.
In the 1960s, the Sanitation District (formerly Sanitation District Nos. 26 and 32) built two water reclamation plants on the Santa Clara River to cope with this demand. The Valencia Water Reclamation Plant, located at 28185 The Old Road, occupies 27 acres west of the Golden State (5) freeway in the city of Santa Clarita. The Valencia Water Reclamation Plant provides primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment for 16 million gallons of wastewater per day and serves a population of approximately 160,000 people.
The Saugus Water Reclamation Plant is located at 26200 Springbrook Avenue and occupies four acres east of San Fernando Road in the city of Santa Clarita. The plant provides primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment for five million gallons of wastewater per day and serves a population of approximately 70,000 people.