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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

A History of Sierra Club Efforts to Protect the Carmel River

June 2013
Carmel River Carmel River from the Boronda Bridge in Carmel Valley (Ventana Chapter file photo).

For over 22 years the Ventana Chapter has been litigating on behalf of the public trust resources of the Carmel River. We have been represented by attorney Larry Silver, and consulted with hydrologist and fishery biologist Dr. John Williams.

Following years of futile negotiations, in March 1991, Sierra Club filed a complaint with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) protesting California American Water's (CAW) continued over drafting of the Carmel River. Our complaint alleged that CAW's pumping from the Carmel River's subsurface flow was without lawful right and that its water diversions threatened the survivability of the local steelhead population (Oncorhychus mykiss). During twelve days of hearings by SWRCB, Sierra Club presented scientific evidence that CAW's diversions were unlawful and that CAW was producing water from the Carmel River alluvium without a permit from SWRCB. Sierra Club also showed that these practices were damaging the public trust resources of the Carmel River.

In 1995, SWRCB adopted State Order 95-10. Included in this order were findings that CAW was diverting approximately 7,602 acre feet per annum of water from the Carmel River without a permitted right and that CAW diversions were having an adverse effect on the riparian corridor, the riparian habitat and steelhead spawning grounds along the Carmel River.

In the ensuing years, Sierra Club continued to advocate for implementation of Order 95-10. Finally, in March 2008 the SWRCB announced that based upon CAW's continued illegal extraction of water from the Carmel River alluvium, and because it had not complied with the requirement to diligently find an alternative water supply, it (SWRCB) intended to issue an order that CWA cease and desist its illegal pumping. In this Cease and Desist Order (CDO), the SWRCB officially noticed five actions of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) relating to the South-Central California Coast Steelhead. These included the 1997 listing of the steelhead population in the Carmel River as threatened and the listing of the Carmel River as Critical Habitat for the steelhead under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

In 2009, SWRCB issued Order 2009-0060, which required that CAW "diligently implement actions to terminate its unlawful diversions from the Carmel River and ... terminate all unlawful diversions from the river no later than December 31, 2016." Based upon this order, a moratorium on new connections went into effect in April 2010. The search for new water supplies to replace CWA's unlawful diversions is now the subject of hearings and workshops in San Francisco and Monterey by the CPUC. The Chapter continues to be represented by our attorney Larry Silver at these proceedings.

To view an article on the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District's program for protecting the steelhead in the Carmel River until new water supplies are secured, go to:


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