Will the State protect the Carmel River?
Cal Am overpumps by 7,000 acre feet/year
For years, the California American Water Company has been extracting more water than it has legal right to from the Carmel River. State wildlife officials now consider the Carmel River watershed a "priority watershed." Cal Am's overpumping contributes to low water levels that threaten steelhead and other wildlife in the river corridor.
Now, the State Water Resources Control Board has issued a draft Cease and Desist order over California American Water Company's failure to comply with the 1995 order to find legal sources of water. Cal Am gets about 75% 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.
In 1995, the utility was using about 14,100 acre-feet of river water a year to supply about 100,000 residents. Today, Cal Am's Peninsula service area has about 112,000 residents, and the water company used 10,540 acre-feet from the Carmel River in 2006, the most recent water year for which figures are available. Water savings resulting from conservation efforts have been redirected to support marginal increases in development. The draft order says the current water strategy employed by Cal Am and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District hasn't significantly reduced the illegal take from the Carmel River since 1998.
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, and the mouth of the river closed each summer to form a lagoon. The river now goes dry in the summer, and stranded steelhead are rescued by the Carmel River Steelhead Association and Monterey Peninsula Water District.
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 State Water Resources Control Board on the draft order. The hearing is scheduled for June 19 and 20. The Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter will testify in support of the order. In addition, we have authorized a 60-day letter warning of an Endangered Species Act suit against Cal-Am asking for a reduction in diversions similar to what the Water Control Board 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 are asking the court to order Cal-Am to provide adequate fish passage over Los Padres. Other environmental organizations may join us in this potential lawsuit.
How to help
Write the State Water Resources Control Board, P.O. Box 100, Sacramento, CA 95812-0100, attn: Chair, Tam Doduc. Mail your letter by June 1 so it will arrive in time to be included in the packets.