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CPUC approves removal of San Clemente Dam on Carmel River
by Dan Bacher
Tuesday Jun 26th, 2012 8:43 AM
Frank Emerson, Volunteer Coordinator for the Carmel River Steelhead Association, said, “This is a culmination of tens of thousands of man hours of collaboration and planning between private industry and public agencies to bring about the re-creation of a living river and a healthy watershed that will once against support a sustainable steelhead population and habitat for native wildlife."

Photo of Los Padres Reservoir behind San Clemente Dam courtesy of http://www.mpwmd.dst.ca.us.
lospadres.jpg
lospadres.jpg

CPUC approves removal of San Clemente Dam on Carmel River

by Dan Bacher

The future of the Carmel River’s legendary steelhead run became much brighter with a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on June 21 to approve a historic dam removal project.

In a huge victory for anglers and environmentalists, the Commission (CPUC) approved California-American Water Company’s (Cal-Am) request to implement the joint ratepayer/public funded Carmel River Reroute and San Clemente Dam Removal Project.

The project will eliminate the Dam’s seismic safety hazard, provide comprehensive restoration of the natural character and function of the valley bottom, and restore steelhead fish passage.

The project is expected to cost $83 million in partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy and the National Marine Fisheries Service, according to a statement from the CPUC. Of the $83 million, Cal-Am will incur $49 million, and the Conservancy will secure $34 million in public funds, $19.5 million of which has been committed or nearly committed.

The project will consist of a permanent bypass around a portion of the Carmel River by cutting a channel between the Carmel River and San Clemente Creek, upstream of the Dam. The bypassed portion of the Carmel River will be used as a disposal site for the accumulated sediment, and the Dam will be removed.

“This is a great historic event,” said Jack Ellwanger of the Pelican Network. “Thanks to all who participated, and sent comments to the Commission – especially the inspired, heroic team of volunteers from Carmel River Steelhead Association (CRSA).”

“This fabled river has sustained the Monterey Peninsula for more than a hundred years; now the community will start paying her back,” emphasized Ellwanger. “She gets a new chance at life and will bring joy and prosperity to the Peninsula in her natural way.”

“This is a culmination of tens of thousands of man hours of collaboration and planning between private industry and public agencies to bring about the re-creation of a living river and a healthy watershed that will once against support a sustainable steelhead population and habitat for native wildlife,” said Frank Emerson, Volunteer Coordinator for the Carmel River Steelhead Association.

Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval, the author of the decision, stated, “This project is a laudatory example of innovative thinking, as it provides a creative solution and a public/private partnership to address a host of problems. It is a historic opportunity to protect people from potential flood damage, meet earthquake safety guidelines, protect endangered species, and provide significant environmental benefits to the public and wildlife.”

“Safety is our number one priority and this project improves the seismic safety of the Dam while also benefitting our environment,” added CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. “The unique public/private partnership ensures that Cal-Am’s customers do not bear the full burden of the cost of the project.”

Cal-Am’s funding of the project will be paid through a surcharge on customer bills over the next 20 years. Cal-Am estimates the surcharge will be approximately 6.7 percent, or $2.55 per month for an average residential customer. The first tier of residential rates will remain intact with no surcharge.

“This momentous decision will enable us to move forward with the largest dam removal project in California history, which will bring numerous benefits to customers, the environment and the public at large,” said California American Water President Rob MacLean. “This decision represents a major victory for the river, its habitat and generations of Monterey Peninsula residents to come.”

The San Clemente Dam is a 106-foot high concrete-arch dam built in 1921, eighteen miles from the ocean on the Carmel River, to supply water to the Monterey Peninsula’s then-burgeoning population and tourism industry. Today the reservoir is more than 90 percent filled with sediment and is no longer in compliance with state seismic safety requirements.

“That dam was built in 1921 – and for my entire life I have not had access to that section of river - and neither has just about anybody else,” noted Emerson. “Upon completion of the dam removal, the dam owner will be giving this land to public. An additional 25 miles of spawning habitat will be opened to the river’s steelhead.”

Emerson noted that Association volunteers, combined with water agency employees, in 2007 relocated 125,000 juvenile steelhead from drying pools on the river and its tributaries to the main stem of the river that flows year round. In an average year, they rescue 25,000 steelhead stranded in disconnected pools.

CRSA has initiated several programs associated with the rearing of smolts during extreme drought periods on the Carmel, and a brood stock program at the CDFG marine station at Granite Canyon Carmel, CA. This program was primarily responsible for ensuring the continued existence of the Carmel subspecies of steelhead during 4 years of extreme drought when no migrations were possible.

Fertilized eggs were hatched and reared at the Monterey Bay Salmon-Trout Project. With the cooperation of various other groups, the small fry were transported by mule and released in the upper reaches of the Carmel above the Los Padres Dam.

Removing the San Clemente Dam will restore access to 25 miles of spawning and rearing habitat, critical to the South Central California Coast Steelhead’s recovery, according to a news release from California American Water. Restoring the river’s ecological connectivity will also benefit other threatened species including the California red-legged frog. Enabling sediment to move past the dam will also help replenish sand supply to Carmel River beach and dunes, fortifying the beach and coastal area against sea level rise.

The project is expected to begin in September 2012 and be completed three years later.

“Removing San Clemente Dam is among the most important things we can do to help improve the health of the Carmel River,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. “So I am happy that we are finally moving forward to take this action – something that could not have happened without a full public/private partnership that has moved this project from dream to reality. It is a good example of how government and industry can work together to generate jobs, address public safety and improve our environment.”

The proposal voted on is available at http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/AGENDA_DECISION/169106.pdf.