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

Carmel River

Carmel River update

July 2008

The State Water Resources Control Board in January 2008 issued a proposed Cease and Desist order over California American Water Company’s failure to comply with 1995 limits on its Carmel River water pumping. Cal Am gets about 75 percent of the water for its Peninsula customers from 18 wells along the lower Carmel River. The 1995 state order said Cal Am has the legal right to only 3,376 acre-feet of river water a year. But over the last 10 years, Cal Am's annual diversion of river water has ranged from 9,538 to 11,178 acre-feet, exceeding the company's legal limit by an average of 7,150 acre-feet annually.

The Carmel River once had a substantial steelhead population, probably runs in the tens of thousands. The run size now is a few hundred. Dams, diversions, and mismanagement of the Carmel River lagoon account for most of the decline. The Carmel River was perennial until diversions began but the mouth of the river closed each summer to form a lagoon. The river now goes dry in the summer somewhere downstream of rm 9, and stranded steelhead are rescued by the Carmel River Steelhead Association and staff of the MPWMD, which maintains a rearing facility at rm 16.

The draft order would compel Cal Am to reduce its take from the Carmel River in stages over the next seven years from 15 percent to 50 percent. At that level of reduction Cal Am would still be taking more river water than is legal.

Cal Am has requested a hearing before the SWRCB on the draft order. The next formal hearing with testimony is scheduled for late July, 2008. The Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter will testify to support the order in the upcoming hearing represented by Larry Silver. In addition, we have authorized a letter warning of an Endangered Species Act suit against Cal-Am and asking for a reduction in diversions similar to what the SWRCB has proposed. We are suggesting that the reductions be based on conditions in the river to avoid "administrative drought" during periods when the river has ample water and also asking the court to order Cal-Am to provide adequate fish passage over Los Padres. We are waiting for formal approval from several other environmental organizations that may join us in this potential lawsuit.

See the Testimonies of Marcin Whitman and John Williams submitted on our behalf by attorney Larry Silver.

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