CSUMB students immerse themselves in fieldwork on the Carmel River
Mikaela Bogdan, CRWC intern and CSU Monterey Bay graduate student, is taking on a new initiative to measure the health of the Carmel River Watershed. The initiative was begun in early 2020 by John Wandke, also a CSUMB graduate student and employee of RANA Nursery. The goal is to create a Watershed Report Card that provides a score of overall watershed conditions by analyzing data on certain indicators of watershed health, including invasive species ( French broom, acacia, striped bass and New Zealand mud snails), benthic macroinvertebrates, and water quality and quantity. This measuring system will be adapted from several existing methods for indexing and assessing watershed health including the California Stream Condition Index and Proper Functioning Condition assessments. It will translate complex biological, hydrologic, vegetative, and geomorphic data into a measure of overall system health. The result will be a score for several important watershed health indicators within the Carmel River Watershed.
The project is still in the early stages. Funding is provided by the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy and an opportunity grant from the Community Foundation for Monterey County. Mikaela expects the project to include several local agencies, such as the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, the Carmel River Steelhead Association and Trout Unlimited. The final report will be an easily digestible summary of our watershed health, targeted toward policy makers, resource managers, educators, funders and the general public.
With continued funding from CRWC, this project is expected to continue indefinitely with the intention of improving the accuracy of the score as well as providing data for indicators that have not been as well studied. For indicators that may score poorly, this project will bring comprehensive monitoring and management to enhance conservation efforts.
Photo shows where the Carmel River flows into the Pacific Ocean at the Carmel River Lagoon. (Photo from Lorin Letendre)
Progress at Last! Earlier this year the County approved funds of $450,000 to resume the preparation of a Revised EIR for the Carmel River Lagoon and Scenic Road Protection. This included a contribution of $100,000 from the County service Area-1 (Carmel Point) earmarked for the Scenic Road Project. Subsequently the County Resource Management Agency (RMA) hired Management Analyst Shandy Carroll to lead the team working on this new round of environmental work along with Denise Duffy & Associates (DDA). Ms. Carroll holds a master’s degree in Marine Science and Physical Oceanography from CSUMB and previously served the County as an Agricultural Resource and Policy Manager. The Conservancy applauds this new hire and looks forward to working with Ms. Carroll on solutions for the barrier beach and bluff erosion issues.
Photo shows erosion along Scenic Road, overlooking Carmel State Beach (photo from Lorin Letendre)
What do you do with your expired or leftover pharmaceuticals? Do you throw them away? Flush them down the drain or toilet? The answer is neither. Monterey County offers a safe and easy alternative for medicine disposal with 16 Pharmaceutical Take-Back Sites. These Take-Back locations accept a variety of items including:
● Prescription drugs
● Over the-counter drugs
● Pet medications
● Medicated ointments
● Controlled substances are accepted at specified locations
● Sharps (i.e. needles) are accepted at specified locations
It is critical to the health of our watershed and our community to safely dispose of these medicines. When pharmaceuticals are flushed down the drain, those chemicals enter the watershed and can be harmful for wildlife. While waste treatment systems are equipped to remove a vast majority of chemicals and make the water safe for human consumption, the remaining chemicals can enter the water and bioaccumulate in living species. When pharmaceuticals are thrown away with the rest of the trash, they could eventually impact groundwater as lined landfills age. Pharmaceuticals can cause harmful effects in fish, deer, birds and other animals that rely on the watershed.
When it comes time to dispose of your pharmaceuticals, please consider taking them to a certified Take-Back Location. These take-back locations help the community safely dispose of expired or unused medications at no cost to those bringing in the items. You can help protect our watershed! Here is a list of the certified Pharmaceutical Take-Back Locations in Monterey County. CRWC is responsible for setting up three of the locations (Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove police departments and the Pebble Beach Community Services District fire station). Please check out this link for more information, as well as the take-back locations listed in Spanish.
Watershed Education Director Marie Butcher with a group of school students on a field trip
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy (CRWC) team was able to reach over 350 children at 10 schools in the 2019-20 school year despite a shift to online learning late in the spring semester. Its newest addition was the Chartwell School, a school for children with language-based learning differences. CRWC is also expanding its outreach to schools in underserved areas such as Salinas and Seaside.
Illeana Alexander and Janet Kung, CRWC’s watershed education interns studying at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, had a blast visiting classrooms and doing hands-on activities with the kids. This included having the students make their own watersheds and learn about different animal track patterns. Janet and Marie Butcher, CRWC’s Watershed Conservancy Outreach Coordinator, and our wonderful volunteers, took students to Garland Ranch and the Palo Corona Regional Parks for outdoor field trips. During those trips, they identified insects and birds and learned more about the watershed they live in, including the lifecycle of the threatened steelhead.
California Wildlife Day 2020 was cancelled amongst Covid-19 social distancing measures, but all the students’ hard work and beautiful submissions are still being honored. We have an exceptional array of poetry, watercolors, science posters, and unique 3D projects – all displayed on our Digital Gallery. We encourage you to browse this year’s fine talent!
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy and the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District are working together to display the student artwork at the Discovery Center once the County’s shelter-in-place order is lifted. The team will also be judging the top artwork and awarding prizes to the winners.
The mock up of the new business sponsor sign is now complete. Existing and new sponsors now have the option of being highlighted as “River Partners” on the current educational signs posted at the Carmel River crossings in our Watershed. These crossing are at: Hacienda Carmel, Valley Greens Drive Bridge, Robinson Canyon Road Bridge, Boronda Road Bridge, Esquiline Road Bridge, Rancho San Carlos, and Cachagua Road Bridge.
Businesses have the opportunity to donate at five annual financial tiers: $500, $750, $1,000, $1,500 and $2000. Businesses must contribute at a minimum of $1,500 to be featured on a “River Partner” sign. These sponsors are supporting the ongoing work to create a more resilient and prepared community in the face of increased wildfires in California as well as efforts to restore the Carmel River and education and outreach programs for regional students. Donations support preventative measures such as maintaining fuel breaks, applying prescribed burns, and community education surrounding fuel maintenance on private property and emergency preparedness planning. Business sponsorships sustain this critical work and demonstrate that the sponsors are invested in these ongoing efforts.
Many thanks to our current sponsors: California American Water, Carmel Meadows Association, Carmel Valley Ranch, Denise Duffy & Associates, Earthbound Farms, Mission Ranch, Monterey Peninsula Engineering, Peery Foundation, Quail Lodge & Golf Club, and Stonepine Estate.
Please contact us if you would like to become a business sponsor, and keep your eye out for our current business sponsor signage at the River crossings listed above.
This year 129 steelhead trout made it back from the ocean into the River and 126 made it over the Los Padres Dam. This is a dramatic increase over 2018 and a good sign for both the species and the health of the river. Just two years ago, only 29 steelhead made it over the Los Padres Dam. Steelhead are a hardy species, and with a little help from the CRWC, the Carmel River Steelhead Association and other local conservation groups, they are making a comeback.
This year we also had more than 18,000 trout rescued. 58 people assisted with rescues during the season, many of which were new volunteers. Brian LeNeve of the Carmel River Steelhead Association led these volunteers along the river to tributaries with low volumes of water to capture stranded youngling trout as small as a single inch long. Using nets, buckets, an electroshocker backpack, and quick reflexes, the fish were caught and rereleased near the Carmel River Lagoon. National Marine Fisheries assisted in rescues this year and their staff were also able to tag the fish. The trout are tagged with tiny chips, about the size of a grain of rice, and when they travel back up the Carmel River in a few years, fisheries scientists can track which individuals have come back up the River and potentially over the Los Padres Dam. Tracking fish can provide critical insights to when particular individuals return to their spawning ground and how many of those individuals who were saved return back up the River. This information is important for informing environmental policies, assessing the health of the species, and evaluating the work of these volunteer teams. This program is critical to the preservation of steelhead trout in the Carmel River and the continued increase in trout making it over the Los Padres Dam and potentially out to sea.
The return of steelhead indicates a significant ecological impact. Returning steelhead are a sign that water quality and riverbed quality are good enough to house both spawning fish and juveniles. This development signifies a positive shift in the overall health of the river. As Brian LeNeve says, “We’ve turned a river around from one of the 10 most threatened in California to one with hope.” CRWC thanks Brian LeNeve and his team for all the work they are doing and will continue to support the efforts to return the Carmel River to its former health and beauty, which includes the support of its threatened species.
Ella McDougall worked with CRWC for a year and a half as the Lawson Little III Memorial Watershed Intern. She had a wide range of responsibilities that included creating education curriculum and delivering class presentations at local schools, assisting with field trips to our regional parks, managing email campaigns and our websites, and creating quarterly newsletters.
One of her most interesting duties was creating a field trip curriculum for high-schoolers about sea level rise and community vulnerability. The lesson plan intended to teach the students about floodplain management, issues surrounding environmental management and species protection, and how to predict and avoid climate-related disasters. It was successfully presented to a group of 70 kids in Spring 2019 at Carmel River State Beach.
Ella was also highly involved in the organization and oversight of our annual California Wildlife Day (CWD) event. As a state-designated holiday, CWD brings together our local and regional community to celebrate and honor the biodiversity and ecosystems of California. For our annual event, Ella helped coordinate school children's art and science projects, select and organize food and service vendors, and manage day-of logistics. In 2019, our event drew more than 700 visitors!
During her time with the Conservancy, Ella learned heaps about the local Carmel River Watershed and its special wildlife, was able to combine work and play by getting to know the Carmel Valley ecosystem, and met some incredible conservation advocates and wilderness spokespersons. Her fondest memory will be fishing in Mesa Pond with Lorin Letendre, the former Executive Director and current CRWC President.
Wildfire prevention is a hot topic in California and a very real and pressing issue for local residents. In 2016 the Soberanes Fire came very close to home for many people, and in the wake of both the Paradise and the Carr Fires, community resilience and wildfire prevention are vital to future emergency planning and peace of mind.
With this in mind, the CRWC Advisory Council has been working with several key community members to address these concerns. Jamie Tuitele-Lewis, Monterey County’s Fuel Mitigation Coordinator, has been the cornerstone of this project. He has successfully brought in multiple grants to fund the mapping of fuel breaks – areas where brush and flammable debris has been cleared to create a pathway meant to slow or stop the spread of wildfire — in the south of Carmel Valley, and continues to work to fund education, controlled burns, and continued clearance to create barriers to fire spread on private property.
He is also working on a project to use Geographic Information System Mapping (GIS) to map fire infrastructure. This GIS project creates a map of fire routes, fire hydrants, water lines and fuel breaks, and will be used in future projects to maintain these fuel breaks. There is also discussion of how best to create a geodatabase to share this information with the community. Access to the database is important for all stakeholders, including the community members, the fire departments, and the individuals working on maintenance on both public and private lands. Access to information is key in preparing for emergencies and increases community transparency. Creating and maintaining fuel breaks is especially important and includes the clearing of invasive plants, many of which propagate very quickly and are extremely flammable. Many environmental issues are intrinsically linked and the health of our communities and our ecosystem are closely tied together.
There are other projects in the works as well. Jamie is concurrently working on other grants to fund education, outreach and the creation of an association to facilitate controlled burns as a method of fire risk mitigation. CRWC Advisory Council members are also researching Home Owners’ Associations to create comprehensive evacuation plans for the residents. Wildfire prevention is a statewide concern and our community, including CRWC, is proudly investing in proactive measures to prevent and limit the spread of wildfire. Keep an eye out for more fire prevention updates in the next newsletter!
The numbers are in, and they are looking good!
According to MPRWD monitoring, steelhead fish passage over the Los Padres Dam is rebounding. After three years of minimal to no observed steelhead population in the upper Carmel River, the number of fish sitings is on the rise. The seasonal total is 134 fish. The monthly counts for 2019 are as follows:
As of the first week of September 2019, 134 steelhead have been observed over the Los Padres Dam, a remarkable rebound from previous years! Let’s keep up the good work (and good environmental management efforts from our partners) to restore these numbers.
(Source: Kevan Urquhart, MPRWD)
A Wild Success!
CRWC hosted its second annual California Wildlife Day community event on March 23rd with the help and co-hosting of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. The event took place at the Palo Corona Regional Park in Carmel Valley under a clear blue sky. Lynn Cullens, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation was the keynote speaker. Remarks were also heard from the spokesperson of CA Senator Bill Monning, as well as two in-person elected officials: Assemblyperson Mark Stone and District Supervisor Mary Adams.