In 1995, a complaint was filed against California American Water (CalAm), a local water provider for the Monterey Peninsula, for pumping water out of the Carmel River watershed at a rate nearly 4 times their allotted amount. This illegal extraction had endangered the health and habitat of the Carmel River. Doug Smith, an environmental scientist and professor at CSU Monterey Bay, says, “Surface water and groundwater in the Carmel Valley are the same thing.”
The impacts from overdrawing the Carmel River were hard to miss. In 1999, American Rivers named the Carmel River one of America’s top 10 most endangered rivers. Populations of endangered species such as the red-legged frog and steelhead trout were diminished due to lack of riverine habitat.
After years of debate and litigation, a Cease-and-Desist Order was issued to California American Water by the California State Water Board with a final deadline of December 31, 2021. This order requires CalAm to find alternative water sources to provide water to residents of the Monterey Peninsula.
In partnership with local water agencies, three alternative water sources have been identified. Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) facilitates the transfer and storage from one aquifer during its ‘wet’ season and replenishes another aquifer to be used during a ‘dry’ season. The second strategy is water recycling, led by Pure Water Monterey, who runs a treatment plant in Marina. And finally, desalination, or the energy intensive process of converting seawater into potable freshwater, is a local option for our coastal community. CalAm is currently working to secure permits from the California Coastal Commission to begin operating a large desalination facility in North Marina.
According to Dave Stoldt of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, between ASR and water recycling, there is sufficient water supply to serve the Peninsula for 2022 and 2023. Water recycling produces an average 300 acre-feet (AF) per month, or 3,600 AF per year, off of two deep wells. 3,500 AF is the annual requirement. A third deep well will come on line early 2022, expanding capacity.
Though 2020 was a drought year, there is still enough water in the ASR ‘bank’. That said, long term storage goals are delayed due to the time needed to fully build water storage quotas. Catherine Stedman, a spokesperson from CalAm, states that if water supply conditions or consumer demands change in the next few years, especially in the face of a drought, it could trigger the need for “additional mandatory conservation”.
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy has partnered with the Fire Safe Council of Monterey County to strengthen wildfire preparedness efforts within our communities. Wildfire management protects both human communities and our ecosystem as wildfires become more destructive. These efforts include maintaining fuel breaks and thinning fuels to create effective defensible spaces. Within this partnership, both agencies have collaborated to create a comprehensive “Riparian Management Guidelines” to aid landowners in the proper management of the wide range of landscapes and vegetation types found within the 255 square mile Carmel River watershed.
Currently within the watershed boundaries there are five recognized Firewise USA® Communities: Robles del Rio, Rancho Tierra Grande, Club Place, Boronda Garzas, and the most recent addition, Carmel Views. To achieve this status, these communities have taken the necessary steps to increase resistance against wildfires within their area by implementing a series of steps including proper vegetation management, home construction and design, and community preparedness preparations. Prospective Firewise USA communities within the watershed include Carmel Knolls, Country Club Drive, Ranch House Place, Rancho Rio Vista, Santa Lucia Preserve, Sleepy Hollow, Tehama, Tularcitos Ridge, Carmel Valley Ranch, Via Los Tulares, and Via Quintana. For more information on how to become a Firewise USA® community, visit firesafemonterey.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional efforts to increase overall resiliency against wildfires include the installation of ALERT Wildfire cameras. Currently within the watershed there are seven ALERT cameras, one of which caught the exact location and direction of the fire on September 11th within Country Club Heights allowing first responders to arrive promptly to the scene. For information about installation of ALERT Wildfire cameras contact email@example.com or visit http://www.alertwildfire.org.
Join us Saturday, March 19th to celebrate California Wildlife Day 2022! In partnership with the Monterey County Regional Park District, the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy hosts an annual celebration to honor the diverse flora and fauna found throughout California. This year’s festivities will return as an in-person event at the verdant Garland Ranch Regional Park. Our theme this year is Community Connection: Spotlighting Local Efforts to Care for Surrounding Ecosystems. From 10 am to 3 pm, join us for a day filled with exciting events for all ages--including: interactive animal showings, art exhibitions, live poetry, and special presentations from keynote speakers in the field. Exhibitors will be dispersed along the start of the Lupine Loop walking trail, located within the park. The event is free to the public. We hope to see you there!
CRWC chairs the Carmel River Task Force (CRTF), whose top priority now is to increase in stream flows in the Carmel River especially during the dry months of the year when the river tends to dry up. Besides working to find an alternate water source for the Peninsula in place of the Carmel River, another initiative we are working on is called “forbearance and recycling.” Forbearance means encouraging water users that regularly pump from the river’s aquifer to pump and store more water during the wet months. Then using that stored water during the dry months instead of pumping from the aquifer. “Recycling” means enabling large water users in the Valley to capture and treat wastewater and storm water for their non-potable irrigation purposes (see attached photo of a sample treatment facility). CRTF members are identifying prospects for either forbearance or recycling projects and then arranging funding to offset most of the project costs. If you are interested in participating in these initiatives please contract Lorin Letendre, CRTF Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org or John Gaglioti, CRTF Committee Chair at email@example.com.
The 2021 California Wildlife Day continued our tradition of collecting Art & Poetry and Science poster submissions from local schools. Submissions must feature a California native species. This year, we had over 100 art & poetry pieces, and almost 30 science posters and presentations. Follow the links to see each and every submission!
Despite facing the challenges of an unprecedented year, California Wildlife Day 2021 brought together communities and families to celebrate our plants and animals through a virtual two-day event. Carmel River Watershed Conservancy held the fourth annual CWD on March 20th and 21st with 33 live sessions featuring 43 speakers and presenters. 484 people registered for the virtual event. Despite social distancing and ‘zoom fatigue’, this community event still brought together like minded environmentalists and conservationists to celebrate wildlife from the Monterey Peninsula throughout the state of California.
The two-day virtual event included a variety of live sessions and recorded events. Despite the impossibility of in-person attendance, our sessions still created a place for families and children to learn about local species such as salamanders, condors, and skunks, and create nature inspired art and poetry with local artists and creatives. One such session, Flor y Canto: California Roots and Rhythmic Words, Bilingual Poetry Forum, with Aideed Medina, explored how to interpret the story of rivers, birds, and flowers through poetry and spoken word. Another popular session, Resilience of the Condors, with Linda Yamane and Kelly Sorenson, offered a rich visual story of the rehabilitation and recovery of the Condors of coastal California.
In addition to sessions that explore wildlife and nature, this year’s event focused on the complex issues of climate change. Two keynote sessions that dove into this topic were the Panel Discussion: How to Prepare for Wildfires, with local leaders and experts in wildfire and land management, and the Young Professionals in Climate Leadership, a panel discussion on how to create a career working on climate change. These sessions attracted diverse audiences with great questions and engagement. To view the recordings of any of these sessions check out our Recap Webpage!
CRWC is incredibly grateful to the local partners, supporters, speakers, and team for helping execute a successful event. The Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District was incredibly crucial as a co-host and long time supporter of this event. Thank you! Next spring we strive to host an in-person event, but still maintain some virtual, online content for ease and accessibility.
Wildfire mitigation efforts are well underway in the Carmel River watershed and greater Monterey County ahead of a likely active wildfire season. Currently, the Firewise USA communities within the Carmel River Watershed are Robles del Rio and Rancho Tierra Grande. More information on how to become a certified Firewise community can be found HERE.
The Monterey County Regional Fire District in collaboration with the Fire Safe Council of Monterey County and the Robles Firewise Group is hosting a “Defensible Space Bootcamp: Protecting Your Home from Wildfire” on Saturday, June 12th at the Carmel Valley Village Fire House. This is an in-person event dedicated to preparing the community for the upcoming wildfire season. Sessions will include informational presentations, demonstrations, and an online auction. All participants will also have the chance to win a $5,000 gift certificate from Ember Defense for a complete retrofit of all air vents of a home up to 3,000 sq ft. For more information on how to register, click HERE.
In May, the Carmel Valley Wildfire Mitigation Project hosted three webinars in collaboration with Thriving Earth Exchange. The sessions included information from panelists covering the topics: “Emergency Planning and Preparing for Evacuations,” “Moving Toward a Fire-Resilient Landscape (vegetation management),” and “Taking Steps Toward Community Wildfire Preparedness”. Recordings of these sessions are available for public viewing and can be found on the AGU YouTube Channel.
One should also take into consideration biodiversity while protecting structures. Fuel maintenance should be balanced with efforts to preserve native habitat within the natural wildfire regime. The Santa Lucia Conservancy has published a “Invasive Plant Management on The Santa Lucia Preserve: A Landowner’s Guide” which can be accessed HERE. It is a comprehensive guide which details how to properly identify and manage invasive weeds, which are a threat to native biodiversity and act as fuel for wildfires. The classic invasive species in our watershed is ‘genista’, and should be removed wherever it is found in the watershed.
Ongoing work at the Monterey County Resource Conservation District (RCD) includes the Carmel Valley Fuelbreak Project, which the RCD will propose during the fall round of CAL FIRE grants. Additionally, the Los Padres Strategic Community Fuelbreak Collaborative Project is in the late stages of analysis for the California Environmental Quality Act.
Other efforts within the County include a project at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve to remove seven acres of non-native invasive eucalyptus trees. The removal of the invasive tree is intended to facilitate the restoration of native grassland and coast live oak groves. This project is expected to improve habitat for threatened species of amphibians that reside within the Slough, including the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander and the California Red-legged frog.
The Monterey County Regional Fire District, as well as CalFire, have personnel available, upon request, to meet with people at their home or business and suggest ways that can make the property safer and more defensible in a wildfire. Many of the key items to address are simple things to do, such as removing debris from gutters or on roofing where an ember could land from a wildfire that is still quite a distance away.
MPWMD has reported Carmel River stream lengths available to migrating fish. That state, "Under natural conditions, in normal and above water years, adult steelhead can potentially spawn in a total of 73.7 miles of stream, including 28.7 miles of the Carmel River main stem, 34.3 miles of primary tributaries, and 10.8 miles of secondary tributaries (Table below)."
It has been an incredibly challenging year, but with every challenge comes new adaptations. This year due to the pandemic, we were not able to celebrate California Wildlife Day (CWD) 2020 in person. Though our event was cancelled, we were still able to honor the student science, art, and poetry celebrating California animals and the environments they live in through social media and our website’s digital gallery. As we look forward to 2021, we are excited to announce California Wildlife Day Virtual Celebration March 20-21, 2021. We hope that in 2022 we can return to our regular in-person event.
With the new technologies and online platforms available, we are bringing speakers, student art, and environmental activities to the digital space where we welcome all to join in and celebrate. Our dedicated team is working hard on the creation of this event and will share new information and updates when they become available on our California Wildlife Day website.
This year we are excited to open up student submissions again. Last year’s submissions will continue to be honored as we also welcome new science posters, art projects, and poetry submissions. For more information, follow these links to the Art and Poetry guidelines, and Scientific Poster submission information. We will also be working with several partner organizations across the state and will post any links to their CWD celebrations on our website as well.
Following a particularly active wildfire season in Monterey County, CWD 2021 will also focus on topics such as wildfire impacts to wildlife, efforts in Monterey County around wildfire prevention and planning, and how to maintain your property against wildfire while protecting native habitat.
The end of October 2020 marked the completion of the first iteration of the Carmel River Watershed health report card. The report card summarizes the conditions and trends of several watershed health indicators including water chemistry, steelhead counts, aquatic habitat barrier density, and streamflow patterns. Each indicator’s condition is based on a scale of zero to 100 and may be used for prioritizing and gauging the efficacy of management and restoration activities within the watershed.
Several low-scoring areas have already been flagged as priorities for management in the 2020 Carmel River Task Force Action Plan. Projects such as aquatic habitat barrier removals and steelhead rescues are addressing steelhead recovery and watershed connectivity issues throughout the watershed. Future projects such as the Carmel River FREE project will enhance river-floodplain connectivity in the lower watershed, while forbearance agreements and off-stream water storage are anticipated to increase in-stream flows during summer months. As these and other management strategies are implemented, updates to the report card every two years should capture the effects of these activities and reflect improvements to watershed health through higher scores for each indicator’s condition.
The next iteration of the report card will incorporate suggestions from members of the CRTF, the most recent data available for current indicators, and new indicators that could not be included in the first iteration. These indicators will include wildfire regime, spread of invasive vegetation and aquatic species, population dynamics of endangered species like the California red-legged frog, and lagoon water levels and water quality. This first iteration of the report card provides a preliminary indication of watershed health and underscores the necessity for several current and planned management activities and restoration projects. The addition of indicators in the next iteration will provide a more holistic assessment of watershed health.